Help me release a beautiful image into the public domain.
November 7, 2007 7:00 AM   Subscribe

I need to make a simple contract in which I photograph something and the resulting images end up in the public domain.

I have been asked to photograph a very old architectural painting. I am doing this work for "free". The complexity of the subject has prevented previous photographers from capturing it, but I have software techniques that neatly solve their problems.

What I want from the deal is the image rights released into the public domain, so that everyone can enjoy the resulting images, any way they want.

I know you are not a lawyer, and I am not going to talk to one. I thought you might have a simple paragraph or know of some resources/templates I could use. I'll post it to Projects when I'm done. Thanks.
posted by fake to Media & Arts (9 answers total)
I think that a Creative Commons License will achieve your objectives.
posted by willnot at 7:06 AM on November 7, 2007

Best answer: And in case you miss the link, the Public Domain Dedication is what you say you want.
posted by willnot at 7:08 AM on November 7, 2007

Best answer: It doesn't even really need to be as complicated as the CC. You'll need to make sure that you have the rights.

An agreement with the owner of the subject would suffice. It's not clear from your information whether or not the owner of the subject would even have IP rights, but it wouldn't hurt to have a brief agreement basically saying that you own all IP rights to the photographs (maybe in exchange for allowing them a non-exclusive license to use the images for any purpose they see fit).

Then... post them somewhere and say something to the effect of "This image has been released into the public domain."

There are no "magic words", really.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:34 AM on November 7, 2007

Response by poster: So, this owner has a small business, I think she is leasing the space. In the space there is a large, very old, and very beautiful painting by an unknown artist. It definitely predates her lease.

It's not clear to me that the business owner has any IP rights here, either. In fact, I'd guess that she doesn't. However, I don't want ownership of the work myself, I want it in the public domain. I feel this is the best of all possible situations.

I can see your point that there aren't any "magic words", in the sense of releasing the rights, but there may be magic words in dealing with this person, and I wanted to make sure that I was covering my bases. The language in willnot's link is good, though I would like to use much less verbiage in the contract I will ask her to sign.
posted by fake at 7:47 AM on November 7, 2007

Best answer: It's not the business owner who would have the rights in the painting; it's the original creator. If the original creator is unknown, the copyright expires a certain number of years after the creation of the item.
As far as making photographs of the painting, if it's a "slavish reproduction" (i.e., head on, no other composition or artistic interpretation, straight copy of the image) then you would risk copyright issues relating to the painting. However, the unknown author of the painting means you're less likely to run into objections on that ground.
The only objections the leaseholder could have to the photo are a) giving you access in the first place, or b) claiming this is a work made for hire. If it's a WMFH, then she owns the copyright and can do with it as she wishes. I know you want the picture to be in the public domain, but I think toomuchpete is essentially right here. The steps to take are:
1) In your contract with the leaseholder, include language that states "The Artist (fake) retains all rights in and to the photograph(s) in question[, except as limited by the copyright holder of Work of Art (name and description)]. The photographs created are not works made for hire. Artist has the right to use, exploit, or dispose of the rights in the photographs in any manner s/he chooses."

2) In a separate document, declare that the works are in the public domain.

I think separating out the two functions -- getting her to agree to let you photograph it, and to dispose of the rights as you wish, and putting the photos in the public domain -- reduces complication, especially as regards getting the business owner to agree to let you photograph.

The part in brackets can be removed to keep the language down to a minimum.
posted by katemonster at 8:04 AM on November 7, 2007

You need a property release from the property owner. If you're just reproducing the artwork, then you need to get some kind of release or permission from the artist.

If you can do that, then you should be able to release the image into the public domain however you like. If not, you could be opening up anyone who uses the image to liability.
posted by bradbane at 8:09 AM on November 7, 2007

Response by poster: The quality of answers here is absolutely tremendous, thank you everyone, and especially katemonster.

Bradbane, is this what you mean by property release? I think the language katemonster outlined will address that issue adequately for my particular case.
posted by fake at 8:29 AM on November 7, 2007

Why not talk to a lawyer? They don't bite - well, most of them don't. Is it the potential expense?

You'll undoubtedly get some good advice here - perhaps even from lawyers. I'd bet that if you asked around some galleries or others in the art community, you'd get a referral to a ND attorney that would at least discuss the issues with you for free. Lawyers that work with the art community usually know the value and importance of pro bono work.

Sorry, I don't mean to imply that you're cheap or broke or an artist. I can imagine plenty of reasons to not talk to a lawyer :)
posted by GPF at 8:32 AM on November 7, 2007

Response by poster: Sorry, I don't mean to imply that you're cheap or broke or an artist.

You wouldn't be far off, but in this case there are other reasons. I understand that a lawyer can provide me with high-quality counsel, and that it is the correct course of action, especially when I'm essentially talking about proper legal language. The most salient reason is simple: I wanted to ward off any "get a lawyer" answers in this thread.

I also understand that doing a proper job of putting this image in the public domain requires more than just a document, and that it might not be possible. I appreciate the clarity with which that is outlined in this thread.

Again, I'd like to extend my thanks to everyone who answered. If you are ever, for any reason, passing through Fargo, North Dakota, I would love to take you out for a beverage and perhaps a look at the piece in question. It really is beautiful.
posted by fake at 11:47 AM on November 7, 2007

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