But the foolish poets brought no copyright permission
January 10, 2015 2:28 AM   Subscribe

How can I legitimately use the artworks that inspired my poem?

I wrote a poem inspired by Martin Schongauer's copperplate engravings of the Wise and Foolish Virgins from Matthew 25. I imagine that if anyone publishes this poem, they will want to include at least one of the pictures (probably the First Foolish Virgin). Wikimedia Commons includes six of the ten images and lists them as public domain due to the length of time since the artist's death. However, I'm reluctant to trust a wiki on this, and am aware that galleries often manage the rights to pictures in their collections regardless of how old they are. I doubt most poetry publications can afford to pay licencing fees (a lot of them don't even pay the poets). To complicate matters further, these are prints, so copies are held by several different galleries.

My questions are:

1. Is there any way that these images could be used without either paying a prohibitive fee or breaking the law?
2. Is this something I should sort out before submitting the poem, or should I leave it to the publisher?

Thank you.
posted by Perodicticus potto to Media & Arts (7 answers total)
Rights management is part of what the publisher does. They can source licensed images for you.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:43 AM on January 10, 2015

1) Sure, if the photographer has either designated the work for public domain (lots of government archives do) or doesn't want much to license it.

2) Have you worked with this publisher before? In general, it's preferred that you do the legwork in getting art if you need the art to submit, especially since it's licensing from someone else. But different publishers have different amounts of staff dedicated to licensing third party works.
posted by klangklangston at 2:43 AM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: That work is certainly in the public domain in the US and Europe. Some collections have historically tried to claim copyright on the act of photographing or scanning a work, but those claims have not held up.
posted by advicepig at 5:35 AM on January 10, 2015

A museum is not going to sue a poetry journal over a reproduction of a 500 year old wood-print.
posted by empath at 6:10 AM on January 10, 2015

Best answer: IANYL, TINLA, etc. In the US, "slavish copies" (such as straight photographs of a painting) lack sufficient original content to qualify as copyrightable. The UK position is more up in the air. This wikipedia article on Bridgeman v. Corel does a nice job of discussing the issue.
posted by katemonster at 6:18 AM on January 10, 2015

Best answer: For poetry publications the answer to #2 is no. Just send a photocopy of the woodprint along with your submission and let them decide whether to print it with or without a reproduction. Though you may want to consider going first to online pubs with it since its much easier for them to take something down if the museum complains (not that anyone will).
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:24 AM on January 10, 2015

Best answer: I'm reluctant to trust a wiki on this

In general I think that is a good instinct. However in this particular case I think Wikimedia Commons is correct because specifically what katemonster and advicepig say. This image is free to use.
posted by jessamyn at 8:05 AM on January 10, 2015

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