Sunday, December 04, 2005

Public Domain

I teach at The Columbus College of Art & Design and I wanted to use ... images in a lecture ... I'm a bit confused. I thought that anything over 75 years past the publication date, or the death of the artist, fell into the public domain. I don't understand how engravings from the Nineteenth Century can be copywritten by your museum. Please advise.

—Brian M. Kane


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

The legal issues that you question are complicated, and we are unable to give legal advice. The copyright links on our website will direct you to expert discussions of these difficult matters. The actual rule is much more complex than suggested by your 75 year approximation, nor is 75 currently the correct number for the approximation.

To summarize, our understanding is that the original 19th century publications are in the public domain, so you would be free to obtain a copy elsewhere. But if your neighbor has a copy of that public domain 19th century publication in his living room, that conveys no right for you to enter his home without permission to make a copy for your use – the same idea applies to museums and websites. Additionally, our museum does not display the original, but instead a restored digital copy. Our museum is expensive in cost and time to create and maintain, so we do charge use fees to those making money by republishing our work for our permission to access and use the images that we have placed online, but generally waive the use fees for requested educational personal use. This is independent of copyright, and is the same access/use policy followed by most universities and museums regarding their special collections. (Comparatively, this significantly underprices our efforts, when we are not paid when displaying the image for educational use, while a professor secondarily using our image without charge receives a salary for displaying the image obtained from us in a lecture; we should be compensated for each use either by a micropayment, museum entrance fee, or like cable TV content licensing, but there is no currently feasible mechanism for accomplishing this online, except for commercial advertising.)

We also assert that, as explained and illustrated in the website User Agreement, the digital restorations shown on our website are derivative works with sufficient originality that they can be copyrighted, and further that the website is a compilation, which also can be copyrighted. We have applied for copyright annually which has been granted by the United States in each instance.

Even when we waive use fees, we still have to observe the formalities of granting permissions because many of the images on our website are there because a donor gave us permission; that does not necessarily give us authority to grant permission to others make further use of the same content, so available rights need to researched for each permissions request.

12/04/2005 8:14 AM  

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