Copyright Law question
February 5, 2015 12:05 PM   Subscribe

I have an online shop that sells vintage items. I also have a book of paintings by my favorite contemporary artist. If I use a page from her book as a background for photographing something, does that violate her copyright? More inside.

It probably doesn't matter either way that I plan to say something about her in the listing. And if it does violate the law, how is that different from using a greeting card or a framed print (not that artist) in the same way? Or maybe it doesn't differ and I shouldn't do that either?

If you are a lawyer, you are not my lawyer and your reply is not legal advice.

posted by harrietthespy to Law & Government (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Write and ask for permission. That would be the right and proper thing to do.

It would frost me no end if someone used a piece of art that I produced for a commercial use without my permission.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:11 PM on February 5, 2015 [6 favorites]

Well, look at it this way: does it constitute fair use? It's not in an educational context; it's not like you're taking a news photo of somebody with it on their t-shirt just walking down the street and it's a small, insignificant part of what you're creating and have control over; you're using an image of an entire painting as a backdrop for your own commercial work.

You might have an argument that since it's not a material part of what you're selling, and it's sort of out-of-focus and shouldn't affect the artist's ability to sell rights to the painting otherwise, maybe you could defend your use...but do you really want to go through the legal trouble of defending something that likely adds no financial gain to your business? Either ask permission, or don't use it, it's not worth the trouble. is that different from using a greeting card or a framed print...

This is actually far more clearly a violation of copyright and you're pretty much guaranteed to lose that battle. Don't do it.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:34 PM on February 5, 2015

If you're literally talking about a book being in the background of your product image and not say, putting a page of art from the book into a frame you're selling, then it seems entirely incidental and minor to occupy the background and not something to worry about. From what you describe that would be like worrying about every artwork in some real estate photos trying to sell a house -- it's incidental background stuff, not directly related to what the photo is for, and likely totally fine.
posted by mathowie at 12:37 PM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

This Green Day lawsuit might be useful to read about. They used an artist's work as part of a backdrop of their stage show. But what I think you are doing is just using it like a background imag, not making a photograph including the artists image that you then sell, correct?

Your best bet is to contact the artist. Your second best bet is to review the pillars of Fair Use, but unless this is an extremely litigious artist you are talking about, it's a non-issue from my perspective.
posted by jessamyn at 12:40 PM on February 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The book sitting somewhere in a busier background, as Mathowie suggests, should not be a problem. Fair use. But I don't think that's what you're doing. The page as the principal background (with not much else in the picture, and the page constituting most of the background) would be off base.
posted by beagle at 12:49 PM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I'm just going to pass on this. I don't want to violate anyone's copyright. I can find other ways to photograph my items.
posted by harrietthespy at 2:02 PM on February 5, 2015

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