10 April 2012

Musing on copywrongs

Copyright is a slippery thing, at times. So is freedom of expression, but let's stick with copyright for the moment.

Look at the picture on the left. It was taken late this afternoon by my ex student Anthony. I sent an SMS message to just over thirty people in the same region, asking for a photograph which met certain criteria and expecting to wait a week or so for results, but struck lucky with Anthony within half an hour. Anyway; take a look at it.

I asked a friend in the legal profession for three off the cuff opinions.

First: does it breach the copyright of the person owning the van in the foreground? Answer: no, because that van and its livery are only part of a larger image, taken at and from a public place where the photographer (that's Anthony) had a right to stand without let or hindrance, and furthermore does not seek to represent the livery as Anthony's own work.

Second: does it breach the copyright of the Podkayne of Mars book jacket which I reproduced almost three years ago? Answer: no, because wet dream fantasy illustrations of women in ludicrous costumes which barely conceal their breasts are so common that it would be impossible to argue that the Podkayne illustration was the original. But it's possible (though by no means certain, since my intent in doing so is to "make fair comment" on a larger issue) that I have contravened the copyright of that book cover by reproducing it in this blog.

Third: does it breach the copyright of Sony Pictures in the Charlie's Angels poster with which the JSB blog compared it in a post last month? Answer: quite possibly yes, since it clearly intends to duplicate that image as closely as possible without acknowledging its influence.

So; we have here a van which may be in breach of copyright and a photograph of that van which is not. Which is interesting, since I see that the owner of the van has attempted to bluff JSB with a clumsily veiled threat of suit for copyright breach over a similar photograph in that 2nd march post.

Here on the left, for reference, is JSB's photograph to which the van owner is objecting. Note that JSB considerately obscured details of the owner. now that the owner has identified himself, you can also see the same image with those details en clair by clicking this link (I wouldn't want to breach Mr Addicott's copyright by posting the image itself, so I have linked to his own online display).

Now for freedom of expression. There is an ever increasing sub-legal pressure on photographers to desist from taking photographs in public places. That is an infringement of freedom which, in my opinion, matters a great deal and affect all of us, not just photographers.

Mr Addicott has, of course, a perfect right to defend his use of a sexist image. He has a perfect right to reply to JSB's commentary upon it. He has a right to feel aggrieved (though not to demand agreement or sympathy from those who disagree with him). What he does not have the right to do is seek, through intimidating waffle, the suppression of other people's right to photograph his van on the streets – not to suppress their free expression of opinions on the imagery on that van.

Bullying is never attractive, and should always be resisted if possible.

If Mr Addicott objects to my use of Anthony's photograph in this post, I hope that he will either discuss his grievance openly and reasonably (you catch more wasps with honey than with vinegar, Mr Addicott) or tell me the exact grounds upon which his implication of copyright breach is based. In the latter case, I will take his complaint to my lawyer friend for proper, paid advice.

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