illustration copyright
April 5, 2007 4:28 PM   Subscribe

An illustration of a children's book cover demonstrates perfectly a technique used in turn of the century farming. I would like to display the book, or a copy of the cover at a farmyard display of a for profit tourist venue frequented by both children and their parents. Would it be a violation of copyright to do so?
posted by NorthCoastCafe to Media & Arts (9 answers total)
No, the book is an artifact.
posted by fire&wings at 4:51 PM on April 5, 2007

how old is the book? if it's recent, it's probably copyrighted.

easiest thing to do is to contact the publishing house and have them get you in touch with the artist. they may be happy to sell you the rights for relatively little.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:57 PM on April 5, 2007

How old is the book?
posted by DU at 4:58 PM on April 5, 2007

The book may be copyrighted, but I do not see how that would restrict anyone from showing the book itself. Otherwise we could not have bookshelves or book displays in any for-profit space, and that makes no sense. So I would imagine that displaying the actual book is fine. But I'm not a lawyer, so perhaps I am wrong.

(Copyright paranoia has gotten insane.)
posted by litlnemo at 5:16 PM on April 5, 2007

To clarify: The book is not an artifact, it has a current copyright. It's not clear to me what rights are involved just to display the book and point it out to guests at the display.
posted by NorthCoastCafe at 5:17 PM on April 5, 2007

Displaying the book itself is fine - see the doctrine of first sale (scroll down a bit). If you legally own a physical work, you can do pretty much whatever you want with that physical item that doesn't involve making another copy of it. (Caveat: that applies only to copyright, not to trademark, but it would be highly unusual for a book cover to be trademarked.)

Making a copy of the cover to display may well be copyright infringement. IANAL
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:59 PM on April 5, 2007

Certainly displaying the book is OK. The Copyright Mafia doesn't like to mention this too often, but the copyright owner doesn't hold all of the rights by any means. The owner of a book paid good money to the author/publisher. One reason for the payment was to obtain the use of the book and that includes the right to display and otherwise use the book.

And (bringing up another subject the Copyright Mafia would just as soon you forgot) even though it is for a "for profit" display, it is just possible that making a copy of the cover for the display could fall under fair use.

Let's look at the 4 "fair use factors":

1. the purpose and character of your use

If it is "transformative", like a parody or part of a scholarly analysis, that is good. Very bad would be just stealing a whole bunch of an existing book to make a new but very similar book.

As part of a display on a certain subject, there is at least some transformation. The fact that it is part of a "for profit" display goes someone against you. The fact that you are making only one copy (vs. dozens or hundreds) weighs in your favor. I'd rate this one a wash or slightly in your favor.

2. the nature of the copyrighted work

If it is merely factual, you can borrow more liberally. If it is more in the realm of artistic or creative, less.

In this case, the cover art & design is very much in the creative realm, so this one weighs against you.

3. the amount and substantiality of the portion taken

In the sense that you are copying just one part (the cover) of a whole book, this one weighs in your favor. You could make it weigh more strongly, though, by doing something like displaying only a small section of the cover art--say, the part that shows the topic you are interested in.

4. the effect of the use upon the potential market

Your use will have no noticeable effect on the potential market for the book, so this one weighs in your favor.

Altogether (and as usual in Fair Use analyses) the answer isn't completely clear cut. But you would be coming to a pretty reasonable answer if, weighing all the factors together, you thought that it could be considered fair use.
posted by flug at 9:35 PM on April 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

Displaying the book itself is fine

I have to withdraw my earlier statement. 17 USC 106 explicitly notes that the right "to display the copyrighted work publicly" is reserved to the copyright owner. Which is not to say that you definitively can't display it - you might still be able to under fair use, as flug notes. But it's not as clear-cut as I previously implied. Mea culpa.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:05 PM on April 6, 2007

Reading that, I don't think it's as black and white as all that. Is there a lawyer who could weigh in on this?
posted by litlnemo at 5:00 PM on April 6, 2007

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