Category Archives: copyright and images

Art surgery


The irony that Banksy’s anti-establishment art commands huge prices isn’t lost on him.

One of the best places to look for copyright-free images is the Creative Commons site. (It’s a copyright mantra I have.) Their licences often have generous terms and it’s usually possible to legally use Creative Commons images in blog posts and elsewhere on the internet.

But do Flickr users who upload images to their photostream then attach a Creative Commons licence to them actually own copyright in those images in the first place?

Here are the results of a search I did on the Creative Commons site for images with the keywords “Star Wars poster”. Notice how many of them include photos and logos from the films themselves. It’s 99.9999% certain that these are the intellectual property of Lucasfilm Ltd and not of the Flickr users who have uploaded them and presumptuously accorded them Creative Commons status.

The Pinterest site is one which allows its users to share images, videos and other resources. (It’s probably on a par with YouTube with its cavalier approach to copyright, but that’s a discussion for another day.) Here’s a Pinterest page of photos of graffiti art, all of it attributed to its most well known proponent. Banksy, for it is he, is famous for his contempt for copyright so he’s unlikely to be outraged that his work has been pinned to the site without his permission and so probably won’t be following Pinterest’s copyright complaints procedure any time soon.

A further issue though: how can we be sure that these works are his? They look as though they are but whose word do we have for this? We can’t be sure, and the covert nature of the Banksy operation doesn’t make it any easier. Even the man himself admits that in the past works which others have attributed to him are actually fakes and that some of these have even gone on to be sold for huge sums.

In a recent story we read that a Banksy mural has been removed from its original location in North London and is about to be auctioned in Miami. There are a number of interesting copyright issues here. It’s reasonable to suppose that Bansky would be within his rights to claim copyright  in his work just like any other artist. But is it OK for him to control the commercial exploitation of that art? Maybe the owner of the property on which Banksy left it would like to press criminal charges? Maybe he or she also now has some claims to the art? The Lexicology website has an interesting article which goes into more detail about these issues.

(Image: Creative Commons Licence via dullhunk? Or Banksy’s own?)

Helicopter crash photos – who owns them?

Mobile phone “reporters” in Egypt

The tragic helicopter crash in South London last week was yet another example of the important part which social media now plays in news reporting. The point at which breaking stories hit the headlines is no longer determined by the arrival of newspaper or broadcast journalists on the scene. Within minutes of an event taking place Twitter is abuzz with eye witness reports, photos and video footage posted by passers-by. Not surprisingly it is these on-the-spot accounts which are of most value to news organisations and they often seize on this kind of material to illustrate their own reports.

There are issues here though. Copyright in photographic material belongs to the photographer, even if it’s posted on Twitter. Newspapers are wrong to think they have the right to post it on their own websites without taking this into account.

An interesting article in the Guardian has more about some of the issues which have arisen from last Wednesday’s events.

(Photo: Creative Commons Licence via Hossam el-Hamalawy)

Patisserie update!

Insert your own “copyright / “piece of cake” caption here

I’ve come across some interesting copyright-related Twitter accounts lately: @copyrightgirl, @copyrightlaws* and the CLA’s own “ProtectingCreativity‏” account (@CLA_UK) are are all good for keeping up with news items, legal developments and some of the wider issues with getting the copyright message across.

In an attempt to persuade you that there’s more to copyright than turgid legalese, here are some of the more entertaining stories I’ve seen on Twitter lately. As always I’d be interested to know if any of these strike a chord with you.

In time honoured Pick of the Pops-style fashion, this month’s Top 5 copyright stories come to you in reverse order:

5: Users of social photo-sharing website Pinterest may be walking into a copyright minefield.

4: Some interesting–and rather late (sorry ’bout that)–Halloween-related copyright facts. Zombies, vampires and such…

3: News of an optimistic law suit fired Sony’s way about the (mis)quoting of a William Faulkner line in Woody Allen’s film “Midnight in Paris”.

2: A story here to back up my “Beware Google Images!” mantra. If you steal images from the internet you can get yourself into serious trouble on prime time TV news (with apologies for third party profanity).

And this month’s Number One copyright story is…

…about cakes. Bad cakes to be precise. It features a cynical attempt by the bakery department of a major supermarket chain to stop people adding photos of its badly-designed cakes and invoking copyright law to justify doing so. Are cakes covered by copyright? A heated debate ensues!

(Image: Creative Commons Licence courtesy of alalsacienne.)

Space odyssey

Credit: NASA/Courtesy of

When the three astronauts from the Apollo 15 lunar mission visited City University in 1971 they presented the Chancellor with a framed signed photo of their moon landing.

The Times Higher Education (THE) website’s “Odds and Quads” series, in which they invite universities to send in short articles on “treasures, oddities and curiosities” in their collections, presented a good opportunity to bring the photo out of the Library archives, dust it off and show it off on the THE site.

Predictably, I only mention it here because it brought up an interesting copyright scenario.

It’s the sort of issue which museums and archives often come up against, particularly now that they are increasingly choosing to open up their collections to public access digital media.

Objects and artefacts of all kinds–maps, charts, paintings, sculptures, books (of course), manuscripts–may be subject to copyright restrictions and photographs are a particularly thorny problem. It’s usually the photographer who retains copyright in his or her own photos but how long that copyright lasts can be difficult to decide, depending as it does on what year the photo was taken and whether or not it has been published.

The Copyright Designs and Patents Act requires users to make all reasonable enquiries to track down copyright holders. This can be a real problem for museums and archives where objects were added to their collections so long ago that by now their provenance has become lost in the mists of time.

Where rightsholders prove untraceable, museum staff must then take a risk management decision to go ahead and digitise–or not–based on how likely they think it is that a litigious rightsholder will come out of the woodwork. If they do choose to go ahead they will usually cover themselves with a “take-down” policy. (The Science Museum, for example, has one of these: see the section on “Images” about half way down the page).

Thankfully, working out who the copyright owner might be for a photograph of astronauts on the moon wasn’t exactly, er, rocket science and my e-mail to NASA received a reply in a couple of days with the OK for us to have the photo scanned and for THE to upload it to their website.

In music news…

It seems that copyright-related controversy has unexpectedly reared its ugly head on the current tour of resurrected Madchester popsters, the Stone Roses. Photographers are boycotting events because the band are insisting that they have copyright ownership of any photos taken.

Where photographs are concerned copyright usually belongs to the photographer concerned, even if he or she is employed by another organisation on a freelance basis.

The National Union of Journalists, who are backing the strike, says that if the band are concerned that photos taken at the gigs are not used on unauthorised merchandise they ought to ask photographers to sign a contract agreeing not to re-use or sell their work for this purpose, rather than insisting they hand over copyright lock stock and barrel. The union has duly prepared a contract to this effect but the band seem to be made of stone and are refusing to adopt it. The stand-off continues.

(Image of “Stone Roses” [see what I did?] : Creative Commons licence from tomaszd) Copyright courses and education in plain English

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