Copyright again

Aw, couldn’t have happened to a nicer company:

The British Journal of Photography (BJP) brings us yet another story of aggressive assertion of copyright wreaking harm on artists — the very people it allegedly empowers. It concerns some photos in Getty Images’ stock library that have chairs in them. Because a few of those chairs are “famous” in the sense that they were produced by a couple of designers that worked with the architect Le Corbusier, the heirs of those designers, together with the Le Corbusier Foundation, have sued Getty Images in France for copyright infringement — and won.

Poetic justice, however it’s now become totally without reason. Do you recall this a short while back?

Copyright law … says you can only copyright the specific expression, and not the idea. This is supposed to protect people from getting accused of copyright infringement for basically making something similar to what someone else made. Unfortunately, as we’ve been noting with dismay over the past few years, the idea that there’s some bright line between “idea” and “expression” has been slowly fading away, and courts are, increasingly, effectively wiping out the distinction.

In the US, we’ve seen this with the ridiculous case between a photographer, David LaChapelle, and the singer Rihanna, because some of her videos were clear homages to his photographs. The expression was entirely different, but the judge didn’t think so, and Rihanna ended up having to pay up.

Over in the UK, though, we have an even more ridiculous ruling, as pointed out on Boing Boing, where a judge has ruled that a photograph using a similar idea, but totally different composition is infringement. You can see the two photographs here:

Hopefully, by the time everyone sues everyone and the courts can’t cope, some sort of reason might prevail, sort of like the mafia meeting in The Godfather.

[H/T Chuckles, Haiku]

2 comments for “Copyright again

  1. February 25, 2012 at 9:58 am

    I did copyright at Uni. The distinction between idea and expression is clear enough (or was, at least).
    Clearly, a straight copy (as in photographic reproduction) of e.g. a painting or a drawing infringes copyright (until the artist has been dead for the required number of decades), but I always wondered about photographs of famous buildings (which are copyright, they are works of art, that is a fact) or in this case, a chair.

    If the chair is copyright (and I’m quite sure it isn’t, that’s called design right and is much narrower than copyright) then surely a photo’ of the chair is infringement just as much as a photo’ or a copy of a drawing or painting is?

    • February 25, 2012 at 10:16 am

      It’s the old story of ‘if that’s the law, the law is an ass’. How many photos or representations of the Eiffel Tower exist? Of the London Eye. Each had designer[s] who have rights or else their estates do. Once the law starts going down this road, then it’s ridiculous.

      In terms of the blog, I’m now au fait with UK and US law and the principle of fair usage does exist and is asserted. This whole thing over copyright is mainly to do with:

      1. Greed;
      2. Govts see it as a means of control.

      Turning it on myself, what if my photo was copied and used on someone else’s site? Well, it depends:

      1. Did he acknowledge my work [and there are people taking posts or excerpts and running them elsewhere]? For me, a simple ‘from nourishing obscurity’ would suffice. Link is an added nicety.

      2. What if I were trying to make money from my work? Is usage by someone else breach of copyright or publicity? Many bloggers would say publicity.

      Either way, madness has entered the world of copyright and truly it’s the thin edge now.

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