Copyright and decoupage
June 22, 2006 12:15 PM   Subscribe

The copyright of decoupage? If I use pieces of comic books, photos, etc. in decoupage and then attempt to sell the pieces am I violating copyright law?
posted by drezdn to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
IANAL however, I've worked around copyright law. You are creating an orginal artwork along the lines of a collage. You are modifying the orginal work to create something uniquely yours, not reproducing it. Therefore it should be fair use and not a problem. Now, if you are simply cutting out a picture of Mickey Mouse and gluing it onto a pencil box, you might run into a problem with Disney lawyers.
posted by agatha_magatha at 12:26 PM on June 22, 2006

Look up "derivative works". Also, see the Wikipedia entry for collages.
posted by MeetMegan at 12:26 PM on June 22, 2006

If you are using pieces of the original works,you aren't copying. If you photocopied the original works and then cut up the copies, you might have to start splitting hairs. But if you pay for something you have every right to chop it up and resell it.
posted by voidcontext at 12:29 PM on June 22, 2006

Variations of this question (I'm doing X. Is it a copyright violation?) appear on the green all the time, and the answers inevitably settle around fair use. IANAL, but it seems like "fair use" is a fuzzy term. No one can guarantee you that your use is fair use. So ANY use of copyright material is a risk -- though many uses are very small risks.

But whether or not you've violated fair use is something that would might ultimately be answered in court, and it would be up to a particular judge/jury to make the call. With text, there are SOME clear guidelines. You're allowed to quote a certain percentage. But with imagery, it's a judgement call. How much do you have to alter an image before it's "your own"?
posted by grumblebee at 12:30 PM on June 22, 2006

This is really cut and dried. No pun intended. If you aren't making a copy, then you can't be violating copyright.

Are you cutting up orginals or copies? If it's orginals then you 100% have nothing to worry about in terms of copyright law.
posted by voidcontext at 12:39 PM on June 22, 2006

Actually ignore what I said. I read RoseovSharon's link and I might be totally off base.
posted by voidcontext at 12:40 PM on June 22, 2006

Response by poster: Just to clarify, when you say originals, do you mean the straight from the negative original, or if I chop it out of a book does that count as the original (the later would be what I would be doing).
posted by drezdn at 12:40 PM on June 22, 2006

#voidcontext: But if you pay for something you have every right to chop it up and resell it.

I have a jacket, bought from a vendor at Venice Beach, made from cartoon character beach towels and old blue jeans. These jackets became hot and some high stores started selling them for like $400.

Then the owners of "tweety" etc, steped in and shut them down. This may have been more of a tradmark infringement than copyright problem.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 12:48 PM on June 22, 2006

Yeah, I was wrong. I just assumed because the originals were legitimate then you could do anything you like with them. Of course trademark and all that still applies. Sorry :(
posted by voidcontext at 12:50 PM on June 22, 2006

Actually, this is the rare case where the complexities of fair use won't9or shouldn't) enter into it because you will be protected by the First Sale Doctrine. This assumes that you buy an authorized book containing the images, cut it up to make the collage, and don't make copies of the collage. So you are selling literally the same "copy" of the image that you bought.

As noted above, there may be trademark issues, but there should not be copyright issues.
posted by The Bellman at 1:34 PM on June 22, 2006

Again, this is a question about derivative works, not first sale doctrine. Someone already cut pages out of a book, remounted them, and then sold them, and they lost in court.

Mirage Editions, Inc. v. Albuquerque ART Co., 856 F.2d 1341 (9th Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 489 U.S. 1018 (1989).
Cutting pages out of a set of Patrick Nagel prints, mounting them on tiles, and selling them, constituted copyright infringement (a violation of the exclusive right to derivative works). Even though the set of prints was lawfully purchased, the First Sale Doctrine did not protect this use because it was a derivative work.

IAAL but IANYourL.
posted by MeetMegan at 2:53 PM on June 22, 2006

I fear copyright law because I do not understand it.

Do I have to stop selling Kinder Surprise toys on ebay? They were derived from the original work by opening the eggs.

Is this allowed, but cutting up pages isn't?
posted by RobotHero at 3:49 PM on June 22, 2006

MeetMegan is correct-ish. Whether or not such a derivative runs afoul of copyright law is very fact-specific, and depends on, among other things, where you're doing it. The 7th Circuit declined to follow Mirage in their holding in Lee v. A.R.T..

Collages are a copyright lawyer's nightmare, for reasons that should be clear from this discussion. That said, if you're really planning to sell your work, I strongly recommend you talk to one.
posted by schoolgirl report at 4:13 PM on June 22, 2006

I did some reading on this topic myself after my Mom made me a quilt from officially licensed Star Wars fabric. Apparently the fabric itself came with a disclaimer that she wasn't allowed to use it to make any articles for resale. So she couldn't have made the quilt and then sold it on eBay. Which seems really weird and wrong to me, that you can buy an actual physical piece of fabric, something which is INTENDED to be cut up and made into something else, and then you can't sell the end product. That can't be right, can it? I found the same page of Collage myths RoseovSharon pointed to, and unfortunately I came to the conclusion that that is indeed the case.

How is it that I can have something in my house, actually in my possession, and be unable to sell it?
posted by web-goddess at 4:13 PM on June 22, 2006

web-goddess, to clarify: you could certainly resell the fabric itself. Nothing wrong with that. But when you make something -- e.g., a quilt -- out of the fabric, you've (likely) made a derivative work. The right to make and sell derivative works rests solely with the holder of the copyright in the original work.

On the topic of fabrics, note that some companies state that you are free to make and sell whatever you make out of the fabric, often with restrictions (you can't sell in massive quantities, for example). Others aren't so kind.

And in your case, there's added trademark issues and the George Lucas greed factor.
posted by schoolgirl report at 5:39 PM on June 22, 2006

MeetMegan, IAAL and an IP lawyer at that. I write about and teach about copyright law (though not this area) and have a regular column about it in the New York Law Journal and I would never, in a million years, have remembered Mirage Editions. You are absolutely right and thank you for setting me straight. No matter how long I practice in this area there will always be new and different idiotic decisions from the Ninth Circuit to surprise me.
posted by The Bellman at 9:23 AM on June 23, 2006

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