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Re: Putting pictures on websites

I'm not a lawyer so don't take anything I say as legally binding, but I will try
to put the copyright law (as I understand it) into comprehensible form.

Whoever owns a picture, or book, or anything solid, owns that thing.  They can
do with it (almost) whatever they want.  The exception to what they can do is
make copies.  Someone (probably someone else) owns the right to make copies,
that is, the copyright.  You can legally make a copy of any book you own, but
you can't share the copy, or keep the copy and share the original, or use the
copy and the original at the same time.  That is, copies are to be made only for
archival purposes.  You only bought one copy.  The rationale is that the
"inventor" of the idea, or image, or whatever, should get to profit from her

Darryl Jones wrote:

> I tried this once before on this list (I have the scars to prove it) but
> never got a satisfactory answer.  I took a great deal of time to think
> about the issue and I want to see if I can get a better resolution now.
> I will break my inquiry down into several issues:
> 1. I want to put pictures I HAVE TAKEN of skeletons in museums  on my
> website.  I am not selling anything.  I have nothing to gain from doing
> this except the satisfaction that I am spreading my love for dinosaurs to
> others.  Do I need permission to do this?  Who do I get it from?  Why
> should I need permission?

If you have taken a photograph of a naturally occurring thing, like a sunset or
lake or person, you own the copyright.  You can do whatever you want.  This also
applies to cityscapes and I would bet to individual buildings.

On the other hand, if you take a picture of a painting in a museum and take it
home, you can look at it as much as you want to, but if you sell or even give
away copies you are violating the copyright law (assuming the copyright hasn't
expired) and the owner of the copyright can sue.

So, where is a reconstructed dinosaur skeleton?  I would argue (and so would
many lawyers, for a fee) that, despite being put together by a person or
persons, it is a naturally occurring thing and you own the copyright and can do
whatever you want.

The opposite viewpoint is that the creator of the complete (or incomplete)
skeleton owns the right to make copies.  Or, possibly, the employer or museum.
Don't ever underestimate the creative ability of lawyers to get judge or jury to
accept this argument.

Every time someone accesses your web site, a copy of these photos is made.  That
is why you need the permission of the copyright holder.

> 2. Do the same rules apply to in situ sites?  How about in situ displays?
> They are not an artistic view, but are supposed to be accurate
> representations of life.

I would think that these are the same as skeleton reconstructions, legally.

> 3. How about sculptures in the public view?  By this, I mean sculptures
> that are on display OUTSIDE a museum.  If it is free for all to see, why
> would I need permission from anybody to put a picture of it on my site
> (this is not something I am even interested in doing, I am looking to
> understand a bit about artistic copyright)?  How do news shows get around
> this?

This is much stickier.  If they are background, I think it's fine, but if you
just take a picture of the statue and post it on your site, you are probably in
for trouble.

The easiest way to get around all the copyright stuff is the "educational use"
exception.  If you only want one chapter of a $600 book, you can just copy the
one chapter.  However, this is still enormously complicated.

> The reason I ask is that I have several pictures of tyrannosaurs in albums
> at home that I have taken legally (I always ask in a museum if it is okay
> to take photos), that I am free to show anybody I want, that are of
> specimens that most people do not get a chance to see.  I want to show
> people.  I am allowed to send copies of my photos to people.  I am allowed
> to send them electronically.  Why should this change if I post them on a
> website?

If you are in fact allowed to send copies physically or electronically, then you
are the copyright owner (if there is, in fact, even a copyright).  Posting to a
website is exactly the same as sending them electronically.

> I am not trying to start a war, I only want information, so please be civil.

Finally, what's the penalty?  Triple damages?  You have two advantages here.
One is the "blood from a turnip" legal defense.  If anyone sues you, you can
always offer to cease the offending action in exchange for dropping the suit.
(Of course, this doesn't apply if you are Bill Gates, but then you'd just buy
the rights (or hire the lawyers to prove you had the rights all along)).  The
other is that most museums don't have enough loose money lying around to spend
tons of it suing people who post pictures on the web (although if you made money
at it, you'd be a much more tempting target).  I heard a piece on the radio a
couple of years ago about a band called the Toucans that had to change their
name because they couldn't afford the legal fees in defending the name from
Kellogg's (General Mills?).  It seems the corporate people were worried that
they would cause confusion among the Froot Loops crowd.

Which reminds me, all the rules are different if the things involved are
trademarks.  That's entirely different (but much the same) as copyright law.

Is this as clear as mud now?

--  Jon