Copyright of photographed artworks

Hi.I'm currently involved in a project creating a short animated film from exisitng art works (paintings from Rembrandt, Caivaggio, Rapheal etc). Many photos of these works can be found on the internet but what is the situation regarding copyright of these images? Obviously the artists have been dead for well over 70 years allowing the works to fall into 'Public domain' but is there an issue with the copyright of the scan or phot of the paintings? wikipedia states that "faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain, and that claims to the contrary represent an assault on the very concept of a public domain". Therefore photographic reproductions of the artworks are also public domain. Is this correct? And if so does the fact that the photos are public domain allow them to be used unrestricted? Thanks Raymond


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In New Zealand the copyright term for paintings and recent photographs is the life of the creator/artist plus 50 years. Certainly the original works are in the public domain and could be copied without restriction if the institutions that own the originals would allow you to. There has been some discussion of how public domain photographs may acquire copyright in a previous question . The legal question on the copyright is subject to interpretation. One view, held by the National Portrait Gallery and others in the UK, is that the digital copying of their paintings adds enough skill and labour ("sweat of the brow") to make it a new work, and so creates a new copyright. The counter view, held by Wikimedia Commons in the US and others is, as you describe, that faithful copies - or facsimiles - of public domain paintings are not original, and therefore such copies remain in the public domain. Unfortunately that means you as a user have to take the risk in interpreting which view is accurate. One thing you can do to avoid the ambiguity is to search for people who have taken photos of the artworks you want and that have licensed them for re-use. Photo sites like Flickr allow you to search for Creative Commons licensed images. You would then have to confirm to your satisfaction that the photographer took the photos of the paintings themselves, and then you could use them according to the licence. Alternatively you could seek out websites of institutions that hold the original and identify their policies around making digital copies for re-use. Some sites, like the Library of Congress, make no claim of their own to copyright in the digital images they have made. If you decide that the risk is small enough, sourcing images from reputable sites with explicit policies such as Wikimedia Commons is likely to help demonstrate that you used these images in good faith in the event someone made a complaint. As a final note, by definition, works that are in the public domain are not protected by law, meaning their use is unrestricted. The challenge is confirming that a work is actually in the public domain. While a number of heritage websites request a credit for use of public domain images, this is both a convention and a courtesy, not a requirement relating to copyright. However it is fair to say many websites are not clear or consistent in their treatment of works that have expired copyright, as they can tend to assume copyright applies to all their content.

--Anonymous • 2010-12-15 00:00:00 UTC