Copyright in “Art”


google.jpgWhat do you get when you photograph someone else’s photograph? German photographer Michael Wolf received honorable mention in this year’s World Press Photo Contest for a series of images from Google Street View. He scrolled / strolled through Street View in different cities, and photographed scenes that he came upon. Let’s leave aside the question of whether this qualifies as art or photojournalism (maybe it’s both), and look at the copyright issue. Can a photograph of another image be protected by copyright or is it an infringement of the copyright in the original work?

The Quebec Superior Court in Ateliers Tango Argentin Inc. v. Festival d’Espagne et d’Amerique Latine Inc., (1997), 84 C. P. R. (3d) 56, dealt with a staged reproduction of a photo, rather than a photo of a photo. In that case, the defendant reproduced a photograph – same location, same angle, same layout of the same subject matter. The court decided that this infringed the copyright in the original photograph. Applying this reasoning, a photo of a photo could easily be an infringement.

In a 1999 US case, the court considered whether a copy of a photograph of a painting would infringe copyright.  Someone had taken photos that were exact replicas of paintings.  Copyright in the paintings had already expired at the time the photos were taken. The court decided that the photos are not themselves protected by copyright because they lack originality – an essential ingredient of copyright. So, copying those photos was not an infringement of copyright: Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp., 36 F. Supp. 2d 191 (S.D.N.Y. 1999).

The image above? It’s not one of Mr. Wolf’s works – this one is my own image, snapped from Google Street View, right outside Field’s Calgary office. (If you look closely, you can see Google’s copyright notation on Calgary’s summer sky.)

Calgary – 07:00 MST

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