. . . but every now and then it's good to have a discussion about copyright. I know I learn a lot every time it comes up somewhere.
Recently I had a customer question the legality of some sheets I was selling in my Etsy shop. In fact, I was accused of theft. The sheets in question used parts of masterpiece paintings. The customer brought up a good point and one that I supported until several months ago. She questioned the legality of selling images taken from photographs of masterpiece paintings. I, too, once thought that if you scan or photograph something in the public domain, you own the rights to the scan or photograph. Art museums thought and some still think the same thing and not surprisingly so - they want to profit from the artworks that they exhibit. Therein lies the crux of the situation . . . is it fair for artworks in the public domain be available only to the museums that house them?
There have been several court cases in which that thinking has been challenged. The most well known case, and a kind of standard for the United States copyright discussion, was the Bridgeman Art Library vs. Corel Corp. case. It seems that Corel was using and or selling images from artwork kept at the Bridgeman Art Library and Bridgeman sued Corel for copyright infringement. The case was dismissed, on two occasions, because the court decided there is no real "spark of creativity" or originality in simply photographing a two dimensional artwork already in the public domain. In other words, the Mona Lisa is in the public domain. Taking a picture of it, no matter what skill was required to do so, does not create an entirely new artwork - it is a reproduction of a work already existing in the public domain and would not differ much from any other photograph taken of the Mona Lisa. The "spark of creativity" was Da Vinci's back when he created the Mona Lisa and that is no longer protected by copyright.
So, like many, I used to think unless you went to the Louvre and took a picture of the Mona Lisa yourself, you could not use it in your artwork whether it is for sale or not. I have come to the opinion, after a great deal of reading over the last few months, that may not be the case. But, the rules do vary by country. In the United States, it is widely considered acceptable and legal to use a photograph of an accurate reproduction of any original two dimensional artwork that is itself in the public domain.
To be honest, I don't mind being questioned about images I use. I am very meticulous about such things myself and would be happy to reassure anyone that was double checking for their own peace of mind. I do, however, find myself a little rattled by the way in which I was approached about the issue. So, I have decided to pull the collage sheets for now to cleanse the palette, so to speak. Those of you that know me know that I take copyright issues very very seriously and would never want to in any way tarnish my reputation for being less than astute about the legality of the images I use and sell.
The images I created for sale in the Zetti MasterPIECES and MasterPIECES sheets were a combination of scans from old art history books and images available from Wikimedia. Every single one of the Wikimedia images stated the image was in the public domain in their permission statements. While I had never used images from Wikimedia until I created those two sheets, I was satisfied in my research that they were not under any copyright protection and were free to use in the public domain. I combined those images in layers with scans from old books and recolored them in layers and cropped out parts that I wanted to use. Though I strongly feel I was not in any way violating U.S. copyright laws, I decided that if there were any question at all it is better to be safe and over cautious. My main concern was that even though the images would be legal to use in the U.S. and most other countries, there are some countries with laws that differ and I am uncertain how the law would apply to customers using the images in those countries.
If you own the sheets in question, it is certainly up to you whether you'd like to continue using them. If you decide not to, I am more than happy to refund your money for those sheets and ask that you delete them from your files. I will contact each customer that purchased the sheets and direct them to this post. I will continue to use them in my work and you are welcome to do the same if you are satisfied, as I am, that they are not in violation of any copyright infringement.
On a lighter note . . . there are a few new sheets in my Etsy - all taken from papers and tools that I own an completely legal! hee hee
And here's a free image for you to use in your own work. Please do not resell as is. It is restored and recolored from one of my antique postcards. I like her warm hat as I sit here shivering in Southern California!