Gimme pics!
April 27, 2010 2:57 PM   Subscribe

Can I use images from books online without getting into legal trouble?

I'm writing articles for Suite101. I've just been reading their legal guidelines for image use. They're quite clear about legal sources online, and about pictures that I've taken myself, but I'm not clear about images from books. I write about art history, and have tons of books with the images I need. Can I just scan them and put them in my articles, and attribute the source? This is a commercial application, that probably makes a difference.
posted by crazylegs to Law & Government (16 answers total)
 
If the images are under copyright, then no. Attribution does not negate copyright infringement.
posted by dhammond at 2:59 PM on April 27, 2010


What dhammond said. Unless they're public domain or not otherwise under copyright, don't use them.
posted by 1000monkeys at 3:03 PM on April 27, 2010


At the risk of getting all reflexive and postmodern: does the copyright apply to the subject of the image, or to the image itself? Take Duchamp's 'Chocolate Grinder' as an example, since that's what I was looking for. If there's a picture of this work in a book I can't use it legally. What if I take a picture of the work itself? And what if I take a picture of the picture in the book? And how is this different from scanning it? Not trying to be difficult, I really am curious how this works.
posted by crazylegs at 3:05 PM on April 27, 2010


What if I take a picture of the work itself? And what if I take a picture of the picture in the book? And how is this different from scanning it?

Legally, I don't think there's much difference. Take a bootleg movie, to use a more modern example. You can have an authorized duplication of a DVD straight from the digital source or you can have a copy of the movie that's filmed with a video camera in a movie theater. The specific means of duplication are different but the end result is the same: you are holding a bootleg.
posted by dhammond at 3:11 PM on April 27, 2010


At the risk of getting all reflexive and postmodern: does the copyright apply to the subject of the image, or to the image itself?

The work itself is copyrighted (I believe Duchamp's work is © Artists Rights Society, New York/ADAGP, Paris/Estate of Marcel Duchamp). The image itself is likely copyrighted by the photographer and/or the owner of the work.
posted by scody at 3:23 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


dhammond, I think taking a picture of the work itself would be more akin to you being on-set on the film, shooting alongside. Then it's a difference of the work being copyrighted vs the image of the work.
posted by CharlesV42 at 3:23 PM on April 27, 2010


This is, as you have guessed, complicated. While I wouldn't neccessarily trust wikipedia to keep me out of court, they have been dealing with this issue substantially because they have a lot of artwork images in their pages that need to be free to reuse to be able to be there. They have this page about public domain images generally and state this "Accurate photographs of two-dimensional visual artworks lack expressive content and are automatically in the public domain once the painting's copyright has expired (which it has in the US if it was published before 1923)." This is backed up by other sources. That second link also has links to places to find images that are likely to be in the public domain. This is not legal advice, I am just a librarian.
posted by jessamyn at 3:41 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


CharlesV42: "dhammond, I think taking a picture of the work itself would be more akin to you being on-set on the film, shooting alongside."

crazylegs is presumably referring to an image of the completed work in its entirety and not a work-in-progress. Shooting stills photography on a movie set is not analogous in this case.
posted by dhammond at 3:53 PM on April 27, 2010


A picture of a picture of the work or a scan of the picture of the work are both considered reproductions of copyrighted work (the picture in the book) which itself is a reproduction of a copyrighted visual work (the painting.)

The owner of the painting may or may not be the owner of the copyright on the image.

See: This summary from the WIPO and the actual copyright laws for more information.
posted by theclaw at 3:58 PM on April 27, 2010


Here's some more info from ARS regarding their procedure for clearing rights for the artists they represent (which, indeed, includes Duchamp). Here's their FAQ that addresses your main questions as well.
posted by scody at 4:51 PM on April 27, 2010


(sorry, cut myself off.) I know that many artists' estates and their agents (such as ARS) are extremely diligent about protecting their rights. Since this would be for commercial use, my feeling is that you don't want to use something like a Duchamp without clearing it first. (I Am an Art Book Editor, But I Am Not Your Art Book Editor.)
posted by scody at 4:57 PM on April 27, 2010


Simply, to summarize what other people said:

1) Duchamp owns the copyright to the painting.
2) Typically, the photographer (or the publisher/company if it was a work for hire) owns copyright of the photograph of the painting
3) Typically, you own the copyright of a photograph you take

(Video recordings are treated differently and bootlegs are actually covered under a different provision of the law, iirc)

However, a photograph of a photograph to circumvent licensing for commercial use is not something that I can imagine going over well in court. I do not know if this has been litigated. This is not legal advice.

It may help to think about this in terms of why we have copyright: for all the bad rap it gets these days, copyright exists so that creators can get compensated for uses of their work and control that use for a limited period of time. As such, if you're profiting from Duchamp or from the photographer's work, it would be both legally prudent and ethically prudent to license it.

(IANAL but I keep up on copyright for various reasons and did take classes on it in law and library school)
posted by eleanna at 9:37 PM on April 27, 2010


When you go to a site like Boing Boing, you see an image by every post. Most of the images of of copyrighted material (comic-book panels, etc.) Do the site administrators get permission for every single one of those images or is the general practice to just post and then remove an image if someone complains?
posted by grumblebee at 6:36 AM on April 28, 2010


Depends on the site, grumblebee. Some of them are specifically seeking out CC licensed images, some get permission to use the images they use, some count on a fair use exception, some may be counting on 'they won't care as long as I'm giving them good publicity', some just hope for the best and comply promptly with takedowns.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:39 AM on April 28, 2010


Do the site administrators get permission for every single one of those images or is the general practice to just post and then remove an image if someone complains?

BB in particular I happen to know the answer for. They basically say to bloggers "please make sure you have the rights to the images you post" and ask you to get permission and that sort of thing, including attribution if you use CC stuff. That said, for the most part they assume that people will be happy, not unhappy, to see their work on BB and so there's no real policing of this policy that is done there. My assumption is that if someone requested they take down an image because it was copyrighted, the BBers would actually do that [though I may be wrong about that]. When I was blogging there I used a few images that I was not totally sure would be fair use and it was fine, but I was pretty nervous about it the whole time.
posted by jessamyn at 8:00 AM on April 28, 2010


What about reproductions of reproductions of out-of-copyright works?


It's always been my understanding that a strictly mechanical reproduction of a public domain work doesn't confer any copyright protection on the reproduction. For example, if a museum posts a scan or photograph of a 300 year old painting on their website, then that image file isn't protected in any way. The same logic would apply if the image of the painting were printed in a book. OP could safely copy these images.

Further, my understanding is that publishers or museums may not like this. They may have nearly complete control over access to the original painting/sculpture/book and want a monopoly over reproductions. They may try to intimidate people exercising their fair use rights, but they don't have a legitimate right to control this re-use.

Is my understanding accurate?
posted by stuart_s at 9:19 AM on April 28, 2010


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