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On the Shroud of Turin Blog, rude demands will be ignored

The Bridgeman Art Library makes photographic reproductions of numerous works of art from museums around the world. It is their business. On their website, we read:

Founded in 1972, the Bridgeman Art Library works with museums, art galleries and artists to make the best art available for reproduction. The result is an outstanding archive of images drawn from collections throughout the world, all of which are available for licensing.

Many, if not most of the works they have photographed are works that were in the public domain, which generally means the works are older than the life of the artist plus seventy years (more or less in different countries). This is true for all icons, paintings and mosaics from antiquity. They are, unquestionably, in the public domain.

A number of years ago, the Corel Corporation used many of Bridgeman’s reproductions to produce an educational CD-ROM without seeking permission or paying Bridgeman.  Bridgeman claimed copyright infringement. Not only had they purchased rights to some photographs, they had made many of them.

In 1999, the U. S. District Court for Southern New York ruled against Bridgeman. The ruling stated that “exact photographic copies of public domain images could not be protected by copyright in the United States because the copies lack originality. Even if accurate reproductions require a great deal of skill, experience and effort, the key element for copyrightability under U.S. law is that copyrighted material must show sufficient originality.” (quoted from Wikipedia)

In other words, if you take a picture of an ancient mosaic, and you give me a copy or you make a copy publically available, I can use it without your permission.

Is this fair? You would probably think not if you are the photographer or someone owning a copyright claim. Bridgeman still makes copyright claims and insists that use of their photographs be licensed. Many such works today, particularly those that are licensed to commercial concerns, contains invisible or visible “digital watermarks,” to detect copying. But that is not effective. Typical blogging software simply strips away digital watermarks and facilitates automatic cropping, resizing and corrections to contrast and color as thousands of pictures get posted every hour.

Does Bridgeman vs. Corel apply to photographs of the Shroud of Turin? Perhaps not, for it has not been determined that the shroud is a work of art. But the courts might not see it that way. The precedent established by Bridgeman vs. Corel stipulates that a photograph show sufficient originality. The more accurate the photograph the less copyrightable it is. It is often said that the courts have ruled that “sweat of the brow” (for example, the act of photographing a public domain work) is not the “creative spark” which deserves copyright. I agree.

However, having said that, I disagree, too. I fully support STERA’s right to claim copyright of photographs. If a book publisher wishes to include a Barrie Schwortz or STERA owned photograph, they should be required to obtain permission and perhaps pay a fee. But what about newspapers and television stations? I think they should be required to do so as well. These larger organizations make money by virtue of the fact that they are using the reproduction. And I think this should apply to smaller commercial websites, including blogs, run for significant profit.

For the most part, everyone plays along. For instance, on shroud.com’s homepage you will see:

All Rights Reserved, unless otherwise noted. Images of the Shroud of Turin and related photographs appearing on this website are ©1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA, Inc., unless otherwise noted. Access to this site does not grant any rights to copy, publish, sell, license, distribute or use any included materials, including photographs, text, backgrounds or design elements in any form or media, without the expressed and written permission of the individual copyright holders.

No one objects. Commercial organizations pay. Some makers of things like beach towels, not wanting to pay, seek other images that are more unquestionably in the public domain, such as the original Secondo Pia photographs. But in the end, a challenge in the courts by STERA or anyone who owns a photograph of the shroud might fail because of Bridgeman vs. Corel.

Wikipedia has taken a lead in this matter and has enough case law behind it to be confident in their assertions. Shown here is a poster advertising the 1898 exhibition of the Shroud of Turin. It is obviously a photograph of the poster and it was lifted from http://www.shroud.it/FOSSATI2.PDF and added to Wikipedia’s massive image library. And it doesn’t  matter who took the photograph or when. Wikipedia states, “This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.” By that, they mean the poster, not the photograph, not the image lifted from the PDF file. Once a paper, PDF or otherwise, lands on the web, it is fair game for Google and others to extract images. Google will do it quickly. Wikipedia will generally add it as soon as someone uploads it. Often, text added to the image, which makes unsupportable copyright claims, is cropped away automatically, not to avoid copyright of the photograph but because the added text itself can be copyrighted. Silly, perhaps, but that is what happens.

But what about blogs like this. What should I do. This blog is not intended to make any money for the author. The images that I display are low resolution (72 dpi) that are generally unsuitable for the book publishing industry. I almost always get them from image libraries on the web. Though I do not take the time to chase down every source of an image, it’s copyright situation or find credits – no one among bloggers really does – I will honor polite and reasonable requests to give credit to an image or even echo a copyright claimant’s claim.

If an image, in my opinion, is legitimately protected by copyright (not merely, “sweat of the brow”)  and the copyright owners asks me to remove it and I am persuaded that it is the right thing to do, I will remove it. When I do so, I will explain who, what and why for the benefit of the blog’s readers.

Rude demands, however, will be ignored.

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