A photograph is a mechanical representation of facts. This is unlike a painting, which is a non-mechanical representation of something—be it facts, such as an attempt to paint an outdoor scene or create a portrait of someone, or imagination in the form of how the artist sees the world, such as the Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night painting. Paintings, therefore, are pure expressions of ideas or facts. Photographs, however, are mechanical expressions of facts.
[...] extending copyright protection beyond the mechanical copying of a photograph (i.e., scanning it and sending it to all your friends) is extending copyrights in photographs too far. The expression of a photograph cannot be separated from its factual reproduction of actual events. Attempting to do so leads to absurd results.
Therefore, a bright-line rule should reserve copyright protection in photographs only for the reproduction of those photographs. Copyright protection should not extend to the elements within the photographs themselves—doing so results in copyrighting facts, which is beyond the scope of copyright law.
It’s a pretty length piece, but well worth a read. What’s your opinion on this issue? Should the elements within a photograph be covered by copyright protection?
503.03 Works not capable of supporting a copyright claim.
Claims to copyright in the following works cannot be registered in the Copyright Office:
503.03(a) Works-not originated by a human author.
In order to be entitled to copyright registration, a work must be the product of human authorship. Works produced by mechanical processes or random selection without any contribution by a human author are not registrable. Thus, a linoleum floor covering featuring a multicolored pebble design which was produced by a mechanical process in unrepeatable, random patterns, is not registrable. Similarly, a work owing its form to the forces of nature and lacking human authorship is not registrable; thus, for example, a piece of driftwood even if polished and mounted is not registrable.
Is a photograph taken by a monkey the product of human authorship? On one hand, the monkey pressed the shutter, but you also can’t argue that a human author didn’t contribute, since they had to have provided the camera in the first place (unless the monkey stole it or something…). TechDirt believes the photos are in the public domain.
At what point does inspiration turn into plagiarism? That’s the question that popped up last year when Rhianna was sued by David LaChapelle over scenes found in one of her music videos, and it’s the same issue with a lawsuit recently filed by photographer Janine Gordon against photographer Ryan McGinley. Gordon claims that 150 of McGinley’s images — including some used for a Levi’s ad campaign — are “substantially based” on her photos. In the three pairs of disputed images shown above, the ones on the left are by Gordon and the ones on the right by McGinley. Read more…
The legal battle between photographer Mike Hipple and sculptor Jack Mackie over a photo of Mackie’s public art piece “Dance Steps on Broadway” has ended with Hipple paying a settlement out of court. Mackie writes,
Anyone can make photographs of any public art and do most anything they want with the photograph. Private photos are most likely not infringements. People can frame them and give them to their uncles and aunts as gifts, they can post them on their facebook pages, or they can make Valentines with them and give them away. What they can not do, and this was the basis for the lawsuit, is offer to commercially sell them, which Mr. Hipple did, at least twice.
[...] The legal issues surrounding this case have always been clear and obvious. Instead of acceding to the clarity of the law, Mr. Hipple attempted numerous defenses. Mr. Hipple pleaded that because my art work is popular I should no longer be allowed to hold copyright. Tell that to Walt Disney. Mr. Hipple pleaded that one can not copyright public art. Tell that to the US Registrar of Copyrights. Mr. Hipple claimed that my art work is “instructional” and that his photograph “depicts dancing.” Taking him up on this argument we produced an image of his photograph containing my Dance Steps juxtaposed to an image of his carefully posed shoe model on a blank sidewalk [shown above]. Does his image without the Steps “depict dancing?” You decide.
In 2009 Andy Baio of Waxy.org — founder of Upcoming.org and former CTO of Kickstarter — created Kind of Bloop, an 8-bit tribute album to the best-selling jazz album of all time, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. While Baio meticulously licensed all the music he used to create the album, he released a pixelated version of the original album cover (top, second from left) without licensing it, believing it was different and low-res enough to be considered fair use. He was then sued by the photographer, Jay Maisel, who “felt violated to find his image of Miles Davis, one of his most well-known and highly-regarded images, had been pixellated [...]“. Read more…
Bad news for TinEye but good news for photographers: Google is adding reverse image search to their ever-growing list of products, allowing photographers to search using their photos to see the different places they’re being used online. You can search for images by entering a URL, uploading from your computer, dragging and dropping onto the search page, or via Chrome and Firefox extensions. The feature will be rolling out to Google’s users over the next few days — once you see the camera icon in your search bar you’ll know you have it!
After Space Shuttle Endeavour launched on its final mission, a woman named Stefanie Gordon snapped a photograph of it from her Delta airlines seat using her iPhone, sharing it with friends and family through TwitPic. Though it quickly went viral, and was shared all over the media, Gordon was only paid by five media organizations for licensing rights to the photo. The Red Tape blog over on MSNBC wrote a great post a couple days ago bringing the issue of copyright infringement to the public’s attention:
In a world where social media users, bloggers and even some professional journalists are increasingly comfortable simply copying the work of others and republishing it, can intellectual property rights survive? Can original content survive? And what should the world do when an amateur photographer takes a newsworthy photo and shares it on a social network?
We didn’t share Gordon’s photo here on PetaPixel because we never got her permission to do so (she never responded to our requests). Luckily for us, NASA just published this awesome (non-copyrighted) photograph of the launch that you can freely share and republish.
Things aren’t going very well for Sigma these days — just days after the world balked at the $9,700 price tag it’s attaching to the upcoming SD1 DSLR, Nikon is announcing that it’s suing Sigma for $150 million over the vibration reduction technology found in Sigma DSLR lenses. Furthermore, it’s demanding that Sigma put a halt to the manufacturing and sale of lenses that infringe on the VR patents, which might be a large number of OS (Optical Stabilization) lenses.
Since launching in 2008, TwitPic has been at the center of quite a few copyright controversies and legal battles, especially when disasters strike and Twitter users are able to publish photos of things that are happening well before major news outlets. Back in early 2010 photographer Daniel Morel had an iconic photograph taken during the Haiti earthquake widely republished in newspapers across the world without his permission after he uploaded the photos to TwitPic, then later that year Twitter’s decision to display TwitPic photos directly on their website caused a brouhaha. TwitPic has finally decided to update their Terms of Service to make it clear that users of the service retain the copyright of everything they upload. Read more…
Alberto Korda‘s iconic photo of Che Guevara, titled “Guerrillero Heroico“, is constantly at the center of copyright battles, with Koda’s daughter Diana Díaz even licensing the image for branded products in order to fund the legal fights. The latest case involves a London gift company, takkoda, which recently began selling products featuring a dog Photoshopped to look like Che in Korda’s photo. The designers insist that there was no copyright infringement but, rather than risking a prolonged legal battle, the gift company decided to settle out of court. Though the amount of the settlement was not made known, it’s estimated to be in the tens of thousands of dollars.