US Postage Stamp Found To Be Infringing On Copyright Over Statues In US Korean War Memorial
from the so-much-wrong-with-this dept
Last year, we wrote about the appeal in a case involving a US postage stamp which was based on a photograph of the US’s Korean War Memorial in Washington DC. You can see the sculpture and the stamp below:
The Federal Circuit has ruled on the appeal and stunningly decided that this isn’t fair use, claiming that it’s not, in fact, transformative. I’m somewhat amazed — as is law professor Peter Friedman in the post linked here. The two works are quite clearly extremely different, but the court felt that since they both were designed to honor soldiers killed in the Korean War, it couldn’t be seen as transformative. The fact that the photographer took hundreds of images before settling on this one apparently didn’t matter. On top of that, the fact that the snow totally changes the character of the image was dismissed by the court as being just “nature’s decision.” Update: That “nature’s decision” line was really bugging me, and Friedman has updated his post to show it’s bugging him too, so I wanted to write a bit more. If “nature’s decision” makes something non-copyrightable, then it can be argued that all nature photography is not covered by copyright — which goes against pretty much every precedent out there. It’s hard to see how CAFC can make this argument.
While there were other discussions over who actually owned the copyright (the government claimed it should jointly hold it, since it had a lot of input in the memorial) and whether or not the photograph should not be subject to the copyright on the sculptures because architectural works can’t have their copyrights cover photographs of buildings (both courts noted that a sculpture is not an architectural work), there’s a much bigger issue here: why the hell did the government ever agree to build a public memorial and not get all of the rights associated with the memorial? This omission seems like a stunning failure of the government in creating this memorial in the first place. We’ve seen plenty of similar cases, involving copyright lawsuits over public displays of artwork — and they all seem equally ridiculous from a common sense viewpoint. If you’re commissioning a public piece of artwork, shouldn’t you also make sure you get all the rights associated with it? Leaving them with the artist, and then displaying the artwork in public creates a massive sense of confusion for pretty much everyone. Your average man on the street assumes it’s legal to take photographs of public pieces of artwork and to then do what they want with them. It’s hard to think of any public policy rationale that would explain why the opposite is true — and yet, that appears where things stand.
Rulings like this should be quite scary for both amateur and professional photographers. If you photograph things that are covered by copyright, you may be infringing. It’s yet another scenario of “accidental infringement” that clearly was never intended to be covered by copyright law.