Photos, Copyrights, and the “Mechanical Representation of Facts”
The debate over David LaChapelle copyright infringement lawsuit against Rhianna rages on — lawyer John William Nelson has written an article on why copyright should extend only to the literal copying of a photograph and not the elements within the photo.
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?