Nov 29, 2010

We don't like to talk about it . . .

. . . 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

Merry Borders

Merry Backgrounds

Christmas Trims

Gothic Color



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!



Effy said...

I think it's sad that you're taking it down. If you're satisfied that it's legal for you to produce the papers, and you leave it up to the purchaser to research their legality in their country of purchase, I don't see a problem. *Shrugs*

It seems there's always someone available these days to rain on someone's parade. It's such a drag!


.Trudi Sissons said...

It is very clear to me Marsha, that the customer who challenged you had certainly NOT done her homework - as I know you would do! Your images are well within legal rights from what I've researched and are available in several other collage sheets sold on-line. Please reconsider allowing them for sale again.

As for the customer who decided to put a thorn in your side, please pity her - for she most certainly must be an unhappy and bitter person who has nothing better to do with her time than hurt and make others miserable.

For everyone else here, please share love in everything you do!!!

Unknown said...

I too am disappointed you are taking the sheets down.I don't see a problem with them. How can someone have a copyright to a piece produced hundereds of years ago before copyright was even thought of.

chrisg said...

This is very sad news Marsha - Like the other ladies said this sad individual must have nothing better to do with her time.

It's such a shame that one individual can spoil so much for others.

I for one will continue to use my sheets, not out of spite, but becuase I LOVE how you have worked them Marsha.

Fiona (anubis 1 ) said...

Chin up my dearest friend. I too think it's sad that you are removing these sheets from your store.But I can understand how you feel.Personally I will continue to use my sheets as I know without a doubt that you are very thorough and meticulous in your research regarding copyright in the images you produce. As well as all your hard work pre and post production of your fabulous sheets. I for one back you 100% my friend. Don't let the minority spoil it. For out there you have a huge and dedicated customer base. We love you and your fabulous Art.....

Big Hugs Fiona xx

The Queens Table said...

Dear Marsha,
I too have researched the copyright of Masterpiece Art the past year and have read the same information about court cases as you have stated. Museums and online sources other than Wikipedia want to be the ones making money from our dear departed Masters. They just want to intimidate people to keep them away from their money maker. It has also been noted that if you change the artwork in anyway, even by just using a detail of a certain area the image, it is now your interpretation of the Masterpiece. I always laugh at those who think they own DaVinci or Raphael. They need to get over themselves. There are many reputable companies using these images on products, and I think they and their lawyers would have done research as well on this subject. No worries!

Recently a large local festival held a contest for their poster design that would be printed on art prints and clothing. The beautiful design that won just copied a Mucha outright and added the festival title with a few leaves. I had issue with it only because it was an art contest and how unfair it is for those other local artists to be judged against someone using the master Alphonse Mucha's work. Of course the design was perfect!

I contacted the group and they just did not get the point about using a master work to win in an art contest. The group just replied their lawyers said the artwork was well within US Copyright law. (I also know from research that the Mucha family still owns the copyright. But here in America it is legal if the artwork was printed before 1923.) So even though copyright was not my issue about the contest, it just proves the copyright interpretation in United States law anyway.

I really have no problem using your sheets. And yes I also know of other digital online sources selling the bodies from these paintings. I figure I would do my own anyway. Your sheets use such small clips from the paintings that all this fuss is just plain silly. A big raspberry to those who don't do their homework.

So after all that.... check out my first digital Zetti art piece I did using your collage sheets! tee hee hee

mary bailey said...

Marsha, I agree with everyone else. I use public domain images in my collage work all the time. I fail to see how the face of Mona Lisa is any different from the face of a woman in a photo from the collection of the Library of Congress. As I see it, both are in the public domain. You certainly are not claiming to have painted the Mona Lisa. You are simply offering us the inspiration and raw material for us to create our own artwork. You provide more than ample information about the source of your images, so if an artist has any concerns about copyright they can choose not to use your collage elements. You have done your homework and I don't think you should be penalized by removing these images from your store.

By the way, here's an excellent link to a collection of copyright information for collage artists:

Terri Kahrs said...

Leave it to one bad apple attitude to ruin it for the rest of us! Marsha, anyone who knows you knows that you take the legality of your images very seriously. I say, "Bah, Humbug" to whoever commented on your artwork. Hugs, Terri xoxo

Anonymous said...

Thanks for drawing this to our attention but...hey...I don't see any problem with it.

Andrea said...

Marsha, thank you for sharing the pic! Such a shame you felt the need to remove the sheets from your shop!

Marit said...

Marsha, you are one of the most coutious and faithful artists i know, so I never would have questioned the copyright of the sheets you sell, knowing you always look at that and that you are strongly against piracy! But it's good to put this blogpost up, as a reminder for many of us, and as info to the 'new ones'. THANKS!

VS said...

Hey Sweet Miss Marsha...
To be completely honest with were the very first person to even bring the artwork copyright to my attention! I had never thought of it before...I thought everything on the internet was public domain, duh!! You have opened my eyes to this issue & the idea of someone questioning your work is simply...insane to me!
Your art is inspired & your sharing it with others to help their art soar is a gift.
I say, 'poo poo' to your critics...they obviously don't know your HEART!
Smiles & Hugs,

"MOI" Freubel said...

Well Marsha, read all your comments and feel STRONG and don't doubt yourself.
Indeed, every one who knows you knwos that you take proper care of the rights.
And every self-respecting seller of collage sheet such as YOU are respects other people's art.

If the images are 100 year or may use them.
In our country to.
What would be the next discussion ?
About postcards so as I use them in my collage sheets ?
I bought myself a lot of these cards on my vacations in other coutry's - ebay etc.
Can I NOT use them ? Come on !! I paid for it !

Again Marsha...don't doubt. You are a honest woman !!!!!
That you write about this decorates your character.

Linda M. Cain said...

Brillianat post! Very useful and true information. Keep up the great and wonderful work.
The sheets are Drop-Dead Gorgeous.
WOW, WOW, WOW and WOW! Love them.
I finally got a few moments to look at the new Somerset Gallery they sent me....and you were in there, too! Beautiful work!

Be Well my Friend in ART,