Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Copyright Corner

Charles Oppenheim answers copyright queries.

Old photos

From Dr. Raymond Turley, Southampton University:

I am still confused about the position of elderly photographs following relatively recent changes to UK copyright law. I have yet to see a reasonably definitive statement of what the situation now is, and the last time I looked into the matter, it seemed that in some cases in order to determine whether or not an old photograph is in copyright (or likely to be so), you had to be aware of how it might be treated under the law of another EU state!

The situation seemed further complicated by the fact that in at least one EU member state, different types of photograph were afforded different kinds of protection, so you had to second guess how the courts in another country might view the particular image under consideration.

Charles replies:
The law regarding the lifetime and ownership of photographs is indeed complex, but not as complex as is implied in this query. The simplest summary of the lifetime can be found in the Aslib Guide to Copyright, Section 2.6.7. Generally, it is 70 years from the date of creation or publication, but if made since 1989 and the creator is known, it is 70 years from the end of the year in which he or she died. One thing, though, is clear - you need take no account of any other country’s copyright law - if you are copying photographs in the UK, then it is just UK law that applies.

Published Photographs of Paintings

Barry Russell, Oxford Brookes, runs the section of the WWW Virtual Library devoted to theatre and drama and asks the following question:

How would one deal with the following copyright problem?
Say there is a 17th/18thC painting in a museum. The painting has been photographed, and the photograph has been published in a book. I want to scan the image from the book and use it on a web page in a non-commercial, research-oriented context. Whom should I approach to secure the necessary permissions - the book’s author, the book’s editor, the photographer, or the museum?

Charles replies:
The painting itself is out of copyright. Approach the book’s publisher in the first instance to see who owns the copyright in the photograph, which IS copyright.

Copyright Declaration Forms and EDD

From Stephen Graham, Information Systems Division, London Business School:

We have a problem at the LBS that might be of interest. We are planning on introducing our ILL module over the summer. This will enable users to request ILLs via the OPAC in the Library and via the Webcat on the Internet. We would then process the requests and send them electronically to the supplying library. (In our case these would either be the BLDSC or one of the LAMDA libraries.) However, the problem is that we have to have a hardcopy of the copyright declaration form with the requester’s signature on before we can process the request. The only solution that we can think of is for the user to fill in an electronic form, and print a copy of it, sign it and submit both. At least it saves time for us, as we will not have to type their details in. It would be better for us if users could sign the copyright declaration form when they come to collect the article from the Library desk.

This is especially frustrating in another sense. Documents via LAMDA are sent electronically. At the moment we are using a piece of software called Ariel (ver 1.1). Documents are scanned in, and “FTPed” to the requesting library’s PC (it works by IP address) which has Ariel installed. The document is then printed out and sent to the user. However, with Ariel version 2 documents can be sent via e-mail. So if we receive the document by e-mail we then can forward it via e-mail to the end-user. All the user needs is a special piece of software that will be able to open the document (they are multipage TIFF files) such as J-Fax or DocView. They then can print out the document for themselves. The weak link seems to be the need for the signature on the copyright declaration form.

Charles says:
The analysis of the problem is correct. The law is hopelessly behind reality in this particular regard.

WWW, HTML links and images

Phil Bradley, Electronic Publishing Consultant, author and trainer, asks a series of questions:

1. If someone has infringed your copyright, by copying your material onto their site (either with or without attribution, but without permission) what can you do? What if they’re in another country?

Sue for infringement - in which case you have to prove financial damage. If there is no financial damage, get a court injunction restraining the offender from doing this again. The same remedy is available in most countries.

2. If I make a link to someone else’s graphic, so that the person viewing my page has their browser pull up my page and include the extra graphic on their page, have I broken copyright? I’ve not actually copied it myself, but I am pointing to it in my html.

If your link automatically forces the graphic on the user’s screen, you may be considered to be infringing, but if you simply highlight a URL and the user has to click on this to pull up the image, then you are probably not liable. However, if the graphic is on a public Web Site, why should the owner object?

3. If I’m creating a frames site and one of the target frames comes from another site and appears in my frame on my page, have I broken copyright?

You may have infringed copyright, and you could be sued for “passing off” - passing off your product/service as someone else’s. Trade mark infringement may also be involved. Without knowing the details, it is difficult to be definite, but I would be very wary of doing what you describe.

4. Is it true that I need to use the copyright symbol (c in a circle) rather than just © to ensure its all legal?

No. You don’t need c in a circle or anything else to obtain copyright. The mere creation of something new gets you the copyright. c in a circle helps in court cases in certain countries, including the USA, but is not a legal requirement.

5. If I like someone’s graphic (say a logo) and I want to use something similar on my page, how much would I need to change it to ensure that I’ve put intellectual work into it, so I can claim copyright on the new image?

Sorry, you cannot. Arguably, you are infringing copyright no matter how much you change it. Always start from your own ideas!

6. Is the HTML that I’ve written my copyright? What if I copy some basic HTML (such as a table or form) from someone else, and just use their code, and put in my own words; have I infringed their copyright?

There would be shared copyright. The originator of the HTML in the table would retain that copyright, and you have copyright in what you filled in. This is not at all uncommon in copyright law! In theory, you cannot reproduce without the table creator’s permission, and they cannot reproduce the contents without your permission. In practice, copying a standard technique for making a table would not be infringement because there is an implied licence to copy and use the HTML code.

7. If I write a newsgroup posting, do I own the copyright on what I said? And how much could someone use of my original posting as “fair use”?

You own the copyright. Fair dealing would be a very limited defence (it always is, contrary to popular opinion) and may well not be accepted by a court if you sued), but it has to be said that offering a text to a newsgroup is akin to a letter to the editor of a newspaper - in other words, it could be argued that you gave an implied licence to copy.

8. I’ve seen single images taken from, for example, TV shows and used on people’s pages. One image from the 24 you get per second of a film is a lot less than 10% - does this mean that I can use it on my page?

No, it is infringement. A court case some years ago was based on precisely this - a copy of a single frame from a full length film; the court said it was infringement. Don’t copy it!

9. You can’t copyright facts. A URL is a fact, so can I copyright a collection of URLs that I’ve created?

Whilst facts are not copyright, a collection of them is. So yes, indeed, if you’ve used skill and effort to create the list and you’ve not copied the list from elsewhere, you own the copyright to that collection.

Author details

Prof Charles Oppenheim,
Director, International Institute of Electronic Library Research
Division of Learning Development
De Montfort University
Hammerwood Gate, Kents Hill