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April 26, 2010 5:39 PM   Subscribe

Does photography and reproduction of a publicly displayed sign fall under fair use?

Some time back a friend took this photo of me next to a sign. The business owner is now claiming that I'm violating copyright.

Being that the sign is on public display, and that I'm not reproducing the image for profit, I believe my photo falls under fair use. I'd like more authoritative advice before caving into the demands of a palm reader...
posted by Tube to Law & Government (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
IANAL and I have no ideal, really, but it's just a generic sign that doesn't even have the business' name and it doesn't appear to be copywritten or trademarked so I can't see any harm in posting the photo. The only identifying element is the framed newspaper article, but that's already public knowledge anyways and if they didn't want it to be public, they wouldn't have framed it outside their business (not to mention that it's already been published in the newspaper).

That's just my personal observation, though.
posted by 1000monkeys at 5:46 PM on April 26, 2010


Not a lawyer, but this sounds like it might fit under that condition "for purposes such as criticism, comment", given your commentary underneath the picture. Fair use is a horribly tricky area of law, though, so you'd need advice from a lawyer for it to be authoritative. Chilling Effects is the usual go-to place to get more info.
posted by Paragon at 5:53 PM on April 26, 2010


Ignore the business owner. It would be amusing for that person to try to get someone to come after you. You are not infringing copyright.
posted by amanda at 5:56 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Don't worry about it. Clearly criticism.
posted by chinabound at 6:18 PM on April 26, 2010


Bert Krages is a lawyer, and he's put everything you need to know about your rights as a photographer on one page. Sister Zorina should look up the meaning of "copyright"; it's not what she thinks it is.
posted by gum at 6:32 PM on April 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Darn. Gum beat me to the Photographer's Right by minutes. I can only add that Bert Krages is also Oregon-based.
posted by The Michael The at 6:36 PM on April 26, 2010


I'll be the first one to jump on anyone about copyright violations, but really? You shot a photo of yourself and a sign on a public street an posted it to flickr? Don't give it another thought - you're fine. Doesn't mean you won't be sued of course, but I think its pretty certain the palm reader wouldn't win.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:00 PM on April 26, 2010


it doesn't appear to be copywritten

Copyright protection is automatic as soon as a work is created and fixed in a tangible form. Please don't perpetuate the incorrect myth that something needs the (C) symbol or needs to be registered to have copyright protection.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:06 PM on April 26, 2010


Copyright protection is automatic as soon as a work is created and fixed in a tangible form. Please don't perpetuate the incorrect myth that something needs the (C) symbol or needs to be registered to have copyright protection.

Yeah, I know that you don't need a (c) symbol to make something copywritten, I was more commenting on the fact that the sign is a generic, non-unique sign and wasn't sure that it was specifically made/designed by the business owner herself (but after reading her comment on the flickr page, perhaps it was). It certainly doesn't appear to be a trademark FWIW.

Either way, I don't think you have anything to worry about.
posted by 1000monkeys at 7:11 PM on April 26, 2010


Lay analysis.

The sign faces a public street, in fact, it is designed to engage the public. What happens in public can be photographed without issue. The photographing is well within your rights.

Then, how about the use? Is it a fair use?

1. Your use is transformative, because it ridicules. +1

2. The original work is not factual and your version does not benefit the public. +0

3. Since your work is a parody, the amount used is less important. +1

4. Your work does not infringe on the market because their primary business is not selling ugly palm posters, but rather doing palm readings. +1

You score 3/4 on the four most critical fair use principles. You're fine. Ignore the takedown request.
posted by fake at 7:13 PM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


And in a nice example of The Streisand Effect, I'm guessing the vast majority of the views of that photo have happened since she posted the comment.
posted by COD at 7:19 PM on April 26, 2010


Come on, this has nothing whatsoever to do with "fair use." This is a photograph of stuff visible from the sidewalk. You're free to use all of it or part of it, critically or uncritically, for profit or not.

The only legitimate copyright claim in this whole scenario is your friend's claim to the photograph he took.
posted by gum at 7:23 PM on April 26, 2010


Ignore it and move on.
posted by ged at 7:49 PM on April 26, 2010


I'm guessing the only reason this is even an issue is because the owner saw the photo, either because they were searching for things to issue takedown notices over (uptight, defensive), or because someone (rightly) identified it as criticism, showed it to them, they got defensive and want it gone because WAA WAA WAA, YOU DON'T BELIEVE IN EVERYTHING I DO!

Ignore the notice. Even better, mock it. Publically. Businesses that can't HardenTheFuckUp (TM) about criticism usually have reasons, like a fear that people will notice they're not *really* helping anyone.
posted by Quadlex at 7:51 PM on April 26, 2010


(It's "copyrighted", not "copywritten", 1000monkeys. The latter could maybe be used to describe something produced by a copy writer, I suppose, but it's the former you want to use when talking about copyright.)
posted by hades at 8:11 PM on April 26, 2010


(It's "copyrighted", not "copywritten", 1000monkeys. The latter could maybe be used to describe something produced by a copy writer, I suppose, but it's the former you want to use when talking about copyright.)

You're right, thanks hades! I knew something was wrong about that sentence but couldn't put my finger on it :)
posted by 1000monkeys at 8:49 PM on April 26, 2010


For commercial photography a property release may be required for the exterior of buildings - there are some exceptions to that though.
posted by Artw at 9:23 PM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


You and the photographer were on public property? Does a picture of a book in a bookstore window violate copyright? Of course not.
posted by gjc at 9:36 PM on April 26, 2010


ArtW: As your link clearly indicates, you might need a property release if you're on someone's private property. Tube and his buddy were just walking down the sidewalk.

It's really, really simple: If you're in a public space, you can take pictures. OK, not exactly that simple -- see Bert Krages again before you shoot a secret military lab from across the street.

But really, people: What your eyes can see from the sidewalk, your camera gets to see, too. Don't start with more impoverished assumptions.
posted by gum at 9:48 PM on April 26, 2010


Thank you all for the thoughtful feedback.

And by way of thanks, if you send me a scan of your inked thumbprint, I'll give you a free reading!
posted by Tube at 12:42 PM on April 29, 2010


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