Pictures of pictures and Art Nouveau

I touched briefly yesterday on the subject of pictures of pictures, citing the Bridgeman v. Corel case.  I've been thinking about that since, and also about how much I love Art Nouveau - after all, it started my public domain career....

If you've read the 'about me' bit on this blog (which most of you probably haven't), I stumbled across public domain completely by accident.  Together with my sisters I'd been clearing out my step-dad's flat when he was going into a rest-home.  My sister pulled a tatty book out of a drawer - my parents probably considered it wasn't in good enough condition to put on the bookshelf but my mum, bless her, never threw anything away so in the drawer it remained.  

Being the 'arty' one, my sister gave the book to me.  It contained lots of colour pictures of Art Nouveau posters, and earlier ones too.  The book itself isn't that old (I still have it), it's only from the 60s but we were doing up our garage as a work-room at the time and I quite fancied having some of the pictures on the wall.  But, and it's something I probably get from my mother, I didn't want to break up the book to get the pictures so I looked on the internet to see if I could find the same pictures to print and frame.

Somehow, and I don't recall how, I stumbled into public domain and all it has to offer.

This is one of the pictures from the book - love it!  Which leads me to the other point.

Charles Gesmar, who created this poster, died in 1928 - great!  Perhaps unfortunate for him as he was no great age at all, but from a public domain point of view, perfect!  The poster itself is out of copyright BUT I haven't got the original poster, I just have a picture of it in a book.  To get it into that book, someone had to take a picture of it and, by doing that, a new copyright is created.

Each time any one of us takes a picture, that picture is copyrighted to ourselves.  We don't have to register it or acknowledge it in any way, it just is.  In the same way, if you take a picture of a picture, your photo creates a new copyright - and that copyright does not expire until you have been dead for 70 years.

I could talk here about perpetual copyright but I'll spare you that one.... for now anyway!

So, if you went out and brought a brand new book about Mucha, who I was talking about yesterday, you can't just copy the pictures in the book and use them for yourself because you know that Mucha's works are out of copyright - damn!  Sorry about that - if you read yesterday's post and your brain-cells started to tick over on PD, this one will burst the bubble!

The pictures in books like this have often been purchased under licence by image libraries such as Bridgeman, amongst others.  Under licence to the publishers, there's a copyright notice slapped on the book - you can't do it.

Which leads me to the point I was originally heading for.... You may have heard about the case of Bridgeman v. Corel - well, you will have done if you read yesterday's post anyway. I'll sum it up really quickly from the top of my head as I know if I go and read it all again, I'll be gone for hours.....

Bridgeman are an image library, they license out images to use in books, on TV, on retail items such as notebooks, bookmarks etc etc etc.  Corel is a software corporation - they produce the lovely graphics program I use (amongst other things), CorelDraw (wouldn't be without it!).

Corel produced some software or other that contained lots of paintings from the old masters. Bridgeman said 'hang on a minute, all of those paintings are from our website, you must have got them from us - you can't do that, it's a breach of copyright.  We've had these paintings photographed (or bought them from someone who had), so there's a new copyright and we're going to sue you.'

And that they did.  Corel had apparently bought the images from another company which has since (not surprisingly) been dissolved.  But there was no doubt where this company had got the images from.  The images on Bridgeman were the kind where you hovered over and could see the large uncompressed version.  The company had managed to bypass this (so-called) security feature (it's not difficult!) and copied the pictures, then selling them onto Corel.

To cut an extremely long story short, the outcome was a ruling that taking a true picture of a flat 2-dimensional image DOES NOT create a new copyright.

Aha, you say - so that means I can copy the book, I hear you say.... Not so.  For a start, that case was in the US - here in the UK the law hasn't changed.  Many here (and no doubt there), think it's a ridiculous ruling and would never be adopted in UK law.

And another point is that this case was the ruling in one state only, as far as I know it hasn't been adopted into law and has yet to be challenged.  It's persuasive but not the be all and end all.

I enjoy law, it's fascinating.  Complicated at times but fascinating.

Books and art led me there (although I have previously studied contract law at college so I have a head start), so the subject of copyright when it comes to artwork brings both of my passions together.

I did mean to talk about Art Nouveau a bit more but I'd be here all day then - another day.

You can see some for yourself on our Art Nouveau posters DVD.