Friday, February 6, 2009

Am I a copyright fraud?

So there are some current discussions I'm trying to understand involving works of art and the public domain over at LISNews: public domain and art.

The public domain discussion has to do with art under the care of a library or museum and what rights the holder has against other's reproducing those images.

On the one hand, the library has no rights to ownership and has lost the battle once it allows anyone to digitize the work; and on the other, the library has the right to protect items under its care and that protection includes attaching limitations and fees to their use.

And I don't know a damn thing about that. I would think that once the library has allowed someone to scan an image or document that's in the public domain, then they've given up control. You can't give it away and keep it, too. It's had its cherry popped. The library shouldn't be allowed to keep reselling the same whored-out item as virgin.

What the library should do is create an official reproduction, as a museum would, and then copyright the reproduction or photograph. Then sell that. But don't keep letting researchers put their perverted mitts all over everything and pretend nothing has changed.

And that leads me to the story about the Obama poster. One of the comments links to this article, Obey Plagiarist Shepard Fairey. The author criticizes Fairey (the creator of the Obama-Hope poster that you probably have printed on a tee-shirt that you wear when you go to the green market on Saturday mornings) for using the work of others without giving credit.

And that's when I wondered if he was supposed to. If something is in the public domain or not protected by U.S. copyright, do you have an obligation to credit the original source? Some of the stuff Fairey copies is pretty old and probably in the public domain. And some of the art is from Communist countries that we probably have or had no agreements with. So is he required to credit the sources of his "art"?

What about works produced through the WPA? Paid by tax dollars, do I have the freedom to appropriate any of those images or literary works (or roads or buildings) for my own greedy purposes? To make posters or tee-shirts? Because if the answer is yes, I'm starting a clothing company because the Library of Congress has already scanned everything I need.

If you want to see some cool images related to libraries... (mostly, the search tool isn't perfect -- the link is dead, so start a new search for libraries here).