Commons:Reuse of PD-Art photographs
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This page discusses legal issues but it does not constitute legal advice. Please see the General disclaimer.
Wikimedia Commons explicitly permits the hosting of photographs that carefully reproduce a two-dimensional public domain work; such photographs are in the public domain in the United States, where this site is based (if you are a Commons contributor, see Commons:When to use the PD-Art tag for more information on this policy). However, there may be local laws that prevent or restrict the reuse of such images in your country, some of which are listed below. While we hope this information will be helpful, any use of such content is at your own risk, and you should consider securing legal advice in your jurisdiction before using content.
The U.S. case of Bridgeman v. Corel (1999)
In Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. (1999), the New York District Court held that "a photograph which is no more than a copy of a work of another as exact as science and technology permits lacks originality. That is not to say that such a feat is trivial, simply not original". In spite of the effort and labor involved in creating professional-quality slides from the original works of art, the Court held that copyright did not subsist as they were simply slavish copies of the works of art represented. While the New York District Court does not hold jurisdiction over the whole US, other district courts have generally relied on and expanded on this decision.
The rule therefore excludes from copyright protection photographs which are intended to be no more than a faithful reproduction of a two-dimensional work of art such as a painting. If only technical expertise is involved (to take a faithful and unimaginative picture), the photograph acquires no copyright protection in its own right. The case extends the rule that scans and photocopies of two-dimensional originals are not copyrightable to cover in addition faithful reproductions created in the U.S. through photography.
As a result of this case, anyone taking in the U.S. a mere 'record' photograph of a 2D work of art—plain, full-framed—gets no copyright protection for the photograph. If the original work of art is sufficiently old that its own copyright has expired, the photograph itself will then be free for use in the U.S.
Different countries apply the rules on originality in different ways, and identical images may be treated differently in different jurisdictions. In some countries (such as the UK) faithful reproduction images may be considered sufficiently original to attract copyright protection; in others (such as the Nordic countries) there may be neighbouring rights that apply.
Neighbouring rights ("simple photographs")
In certain countries, any photograph, whether original or not, is covered by a so-called "simple photograph" neighbouring right that amounts to a copyright with a reduced term of protection. If the photo is sufficiently original, the author can additionally be granted normal copyright protection. In the Nordic countries, for example, the right applies to all photographs, including "faithful reproduction" images. However, protection does not normally apply to scans or other photomechanical reproductions — this special neighbouring right applies only to photographs. See Commons:Simple photographs.
Country-specific rules
Inconclusive. Court cases in Australia have gone both ways. See Telstra v Desktop Marketing Systems.
Inconclusive. In the Belgian law "Wet betreffende het auteursrecht en de naburige rechten." of 30 June 1994, in chapter 1, part 1, article 2, paragraph 5 one finds:
De beschermingstermijn van foto's die oorspronkelijk zijn, in de zin dat zij een eigen intellectuele schepping van de auteur zijn, wordt (vastgesteld) overeenkomstig de voorgaande paragrafen.[1]
The protection duration of photographs that are original, in the sense that they are a proper intellectual creation of the author, becomes like previous paragraphs. [and thus copyrighted till 70 years after the death of the author]
The Belgian federal government clarifies this on one of its websites:
Worden daarentegen niet beschermd door het auteursrecht: wat uitsluitend door een machine wordt voortgebracht (satellietbeelden).[1]
The is no copyright protection for what is made solely by a machine (e.g. satellite images).
Simple scans or photographs of public domain documents remain hence in the public domain.
Inconclusive. Court cases in Canada regarding "sweat of the brow" have gone both ways.
See Nordic countries
Inconclusive. Court cases in France have gone both ways. See fr:Utilisateur:Jastrow/PD-art (in French).
Inconclusive. Reproduction photography of two-dimensional works does generally not attract protection as a work within the meaning of § 2 UrhG.[2] However, it can be protected under related rights, namely as a (simple) Lichtbild pursuant to § 72 UrhG which protects “photographs and products manufactured in a similar manner to photographs” for a reduced term of 50 years after their creation or, if they are published within 50 years after their creation, for 50 years following the year of first publication (§ 72.3 UrhG). The scope of protection, however, is essentially equivalent, with few exceptions of no or minor relevance to the Wikimedia project.
Despite the sui generis character of the provision, the Federal High Court has established the requirement of a “minimum threshold of intellectual merit” (Mindestmaß an persönlicher geistiger Leistung).[3] It is not necessary that the photographer is creative in any way, and the required “intellectual merit” is generally understood to refer to the photographers’ ability to handle the often highly-complex apperatures or the set-up of the photograph, e.g. the choice of perspective, distance, motive etc.[4] Purely mechanical reproductions (e.g. those that reproduce merely by way of photocopying, creating diapositives or scanning) are not protected by § 72 UrhG.[5] This follows the High Court’s landmark Bibelreproduktion judgement of 1990 in which it denied protection under § 72 UrhG to “Lichtbilder or products manufactured in a similar manner to Lichtbilder […] that constitute mere reproductions of other Lichtbilder (or products manufactured in a similar manner to Lichtbilder) […], i.e. that merely reproduce (copy) an original Lichtbild as closely as possible, irrespective of whether in the same format or by way of micro or macrocopy. The protection as a Lichtbild requires that the Lichtbild as such was created in an original manner, i.e. as an Urbild.[6]
As regards photographs of “two-dimensional” works that are not created in a purely mechanical way (but, e.g., photographed directly with an ordinary camera), eligibility for § 72 UrhG is somewhat controversial, though the strong majority view is that they are protected as Lichtbilder. See de:Wikipedia:Urheberrechtsfragen/Zweidimensionale Reproduktionsfotografie for a literature and case law survey.
OK before 2001 /
 Not OK otherwise. Reproduction photography is protected by copyright in Italy, but this right subsists until 20 years have elapsed from the year in which the picture was produced.[7][8]
Relevant cases in the Cassazione (supreme court) include 5089/2004 and 9757/2013.
OK The Agency for Cultural Affairs states photographic reproductions are not copyrightable, though there have been no court decisions. As a similar case, The Intellectual Property High Court ruled that a hand-drawn copy of an old line drawing with minor modifications could not attract copyright as a derivative work because of lack of creativity. [1] And The Supreme Court did not admit owner to exercise of Copyright.[9]
OK Paragraph 4 of Article 1 of Decree-Law n.o 43/99/M: "A work is original where it is the result of the author’s own creative effort and not merely the appropriation of another person’s creation."[10]
Inconclusive. In the Netherlands, the Van Dale/Romme-arrest, a decision of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands about a database, states that a work must possess two characteristics in order to be copyrightable:
  1. een eigen oorspronkelijk karakter (its own original character)
  2. met een persoonlijk stempel van de maker (and a maker's mark)
This ruling is considered to be applicable to other 'works' (as defined in the Auteurswet 1912) as well. However, it is unclear where to draw any line with regards to these two points, so it remains to be decided on a per-case basis if a photograph of an old painting can be copyrighted or not. Generally, exact and technically perfect photographs of two-dimensional objects in the public domain are not considered copyrightable, since the aim of making an exact reproduction rules out any originality on the part of the maker (see also the explanation on Arnoud Engelfriet's blog.[11])
Nordic countries
This public domain Icelandic artwork was scanned from a book published in 1950. Any exclusive rights of photographic pictures involved in producing the book have expired by now.
 Not OK. In Denmark ([12]), Finland ([13]), Norway ([14]), Sweden ([15]), and Iceland ([16]), anyone who has produced a photographic picture has an exclusive right to reproduce the picture and to make it available to the public. This right subsists until 50 years have elapsed from the year in which the picture was produced (15 years after the death of the photographer but at least 50 years in Norway).
Photographic reproductions from these countries enter the public domain when both the copyrights on the original and this neighboring right on the photograph have expired. Recent photos are thus never OK, but older ones may be (if the original is in the public domain). These countries had until the 1990s shorter terms for this photography right.
However, mechanical reproduction such as photocopying and scanning are not mentioned in the laws, and are probably
OK. Similarly, reprints using old etchings and copper-plates are likely not protected.
OK Faithful reproductions of two-dimensional works of art are not eligible for copyright themselves under Polish law, because they are not considered as individual creative activity.
Court rulings:
OK Copyright is granted only to "any changes to an artistic work which require creative intellectual work", while "non-essential changes, additions, cuttings or adaptations, as well as the correction of a work or a collection do not extend their copyright term".[17]
OK. Copyright on photographs requires "author’s own intellectual creation" (Act No. 185/2015, Section 3(1)(5)):[18]
"(5) Fotografickým dielom je zachytenie obrazu prostredníctvom fotografického technického zariadenia, ak je výsledkom tvorivej duševnej činnosti autora; žiadne iné podmienky podľa odseku 1 sa neuplatnia."
OK before 1996 /
 Not OK otherwise. The Ley de propiedad intelectual (LPI 1996)[19] provides 25 years of copyright to "mere photographs" or similar reproductions, beginning on 1 January of the year following creation.
TITULO V: La protección de las meras fotografías.
Artículo 128. De las meras fotografías.
Quien realice una fotografía u otra reproducción obtenida por procedimiento análogo a aquélla, cuando ni una ni otra tengan el carácter de obras protegidas en el Libro I, goza del derecho exclusivo de autorizar su reproducción, distribución y comunicación pública, en los mismos términos reconocidos en la presente Ley a los autores de obras fotográficas.
Este derecho tendrá una duración de veinticinco años computados desde el día 1 de enero del año siguiente a la fecha de realización de la fotografía o reproducción.
OK In Switzerland, photographs must exhibit an "individual expression of thought" to be subject to copyright. According to applicable Supreme Court case law[20] this requires that the photograph is given an individual character e.g. by the choice of framing, the use of camera settings or the editing of the image. This means that faithful reproduction photographs are not subject to copyright in Switzerland. The State Library of Lucerne also opines in that sense, saying that photographic reproductions of documents from libraries were not "works" in the sense of the copyright law and thus not copyrighted.
See also Swiss copyright law.
 Not OK in Taiwan, Republic of China:
Copyright restriction
Article 79 of the Copyright Act: "For a literary or artistic work that has no economic rights or for which the economic rights have been extinguished, a plate maker who arranges and prints the said literary work, or in the case of an artistic work, a plate maker who photocopies, prints, or uses a similar method of reproduction and first publishes such reproduction based on such original artistic work, and duly records it in accordance with this Act, shall have the exclusive right to photocopy, print, or use similar methods of reproduction based on the plate."
Getting this exclusive plate right requires official registration. Once registered, the plate right is good for ten (10) years from the time the plate is completed, to expire at year end.
Non-copyright restriction
Cultural Heritage Preservation Act: Item 1 of Article 69: "For the purpose of research and promotion, public antiquities preservation agency (institution) may reproduce and supervise the reproduction of the Antiquities under its custody. Third parties may not make any such reproduction except with the permission and under the supervision of the original custodian preservation agency (institution)."
Item 2 of Article 69: "The rules governing the reproduction and supervision of Antiquities referred to in the preceding paragraph shall be prescribed by the central competent authority."
Item 1 of paragraph 1 of Article 97 provides the administrative fine of 100,000 to 500,000 new Taiwan dollars for "reproducing publicly owned Antiquities without permission from, or supervision of, the original custodian preservation agency (institution) in violation of item 1 of Article 69."
United Kingdom / UK
The courts in the UK traditionally applied a very low test for photographic originality, based on the "skill and labour" required to capture the image, and it was long thought that there would most likely be sufficient originality in a photographer's selection of lighting arrangements, exposure, filters and so on for a new copyright to be generated. However, the 2009 Infopaq decision of the CJEU defined a different test, namely "Is it the author’s own intellectual creation?"
In November 2015, the UK IPO updated its copyright advice notice[21] to include the following:
Are digitised copies of older images protected by copyright?
Simply creating a copy of an image won’t result in a new copyright in the new item. However, there is a degree of uncertainty regarding whether copyright can exist in digitised copies of older images for which copyright has expired. Some people argue that a new copyright may arise in such copies if specialist skills have been used to optimise detail, and/or the original image has been touched up to remove blemishes, stains or creases.
However, according to the Court of Justice of the European Union which has effect in UK law, copyright can only subsist in subject matter that is original in the sense that it is the author’s own ‘intellectual creation’. Given this criteria, it seems unlikely that what is merely a retouched, digitised image of an older work can be considered as ‘original’. This is because there will generally be minimal scope for a creator to exercise free and creative choices if their aim is simply to make a faithful reproduction of an existing work.
Although the IPO advice is not binding on the UK courts, it is of useful persuasive value. It's interesting that the official view being taken is that the European Court of Justice has effectively replaced the very low bar of "Was sufficient skill and labour applied?" with the higher one of "Is it the author’s own intellectual creation?".
Note that there is no issue regarding raw unenhanced scans or photocopies of PD illustrations in an old book. These are always OK, as purely mechanical copying has never been capable of creating a new copyright.
United States / USA
OK Under the rule in Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corporation, a mere 'record' photograph of a 2D work of art (i.e. a photograph which is an as-accurate-as-possible copy of the original) acquires no copyright protection.
See also
Thomas Margoni. The digitisation of cultural heritage: originality, derivative works and (non) original photographs. Institute for Information Law (IViR), University of Amsterdam. Retrieved on 2019-05-08.
  1. a b Wet betreffende het auteursrecht en de naburige rechten. (NOTA : Raadpleging van vroegere versies vanaf 29-04-1995 en tekstbijwerking tot 29-12-2017) Zie wijziging(en). JUSTITIE (30 June 1994). Retrieved on 2019-05-08.
  2. Bullinger in Wandtke/Bullinger, UrhR, 3th ed. (2009), § 2 (119); Stang: Freie Verwendung von Abbildungen gemeinfreier Werke? Zur urheberrechtlichen Bewertung von Angeboten gemeinfreier Bilder bei Wikipedia und Wikimedia Commons. In: Zeitschrift für Geistiges Eigentum. 1 (2), 2009, p. 167–219, p. 175; probably Ahlberg in BeckOK UrhR, 2nd ed. (2013), § 2 (143), according to whom „[die Grenze zum Schöpferischen] ist noch nicht überschritten, wenn die Fotografie die gezeigten Gegenstände dank beherrschter Aufnahme-, Entwicklungs- und Vergrößerungstechnik bestmöglich wiedergeben“ since „jeder, der diese Technik beherrscht, kommt zu derselben bestmöglichen Wiedergabe“; likely also A. Nordemann in Loewenheim, Handbuch UrhR, 2nd ed. (2010), § 9 (148) who refers to photographs „[bei denen] jeder Fotograf mit den selben Fähigkeiten und Kenntnissen etwa dasselbe Ergebnis, nämlich eine technisch einwandfreie Wiedergabe, erzielen könnte“ as not admissible for protection under § 2 UrhG. See also OLG Düsseldorf, 20 U 115/95 = GRUR 1997, 49, 51 – Beuys-Fotografien in which it is noted that „Bei den Aufnahmen der Zeichnungen ging es darum, die flächigen Kunstwerke möglichst korrekt wiederzugeben. Künstlerischer Gestaltungsspielraum bestand dabei nicht in nennenswertem Umfang. Wie man eine Zeichnung zur Aufnahme bestens ausleuchtet und welches Filmmaterial und Fotopapier man verwendet, wie man belichtet und entwickelt, betrifft die handwerkliche Seite der Fotografentätigkeit. Der richtige Aufnahmestandpunkt ist bei den flächigen Objekten ohnehin vorgegeben.”, which (in this respect) also meets with agreement by Loewenheim in Schricker/Loewenheim, Urheberrecht, 4th ed. (2008), § 2 (184).
  3. BGH, I ZR 14/88 = GRUR 1990, 669, 673 – Bibelreproduktion; BGH, I ZR 55/97 = ZUM 2000, 233, 234 – Werbefotos.
  4. Lauber-Rönsberg in BeckOK UrhR, 2nd ed. (2013), § 72 (14); Vogel in Schricker/Loewenheim, Urheberrecht, 4th ed. (2008), § 72 (23); Thum in Wandtke/Bullinger, UrhR, 3rd ed. (2009), § 72 (11). A less restrictive view is notably employed by A. Nordemann in Fromm/Nordemann, UrhR, 10th ed. (2008), § 72 (10, 11) who dismisses the High Court’s requirement of some “intellectual merit” alltogether; similar Schulze in Dreier/Schulze, UrhR, 4th ed. (2013), § 72 (10) who considers reproduction photography as within the scope of § 72 UrhG „wenn sie einen erheblichen Aufwand erfordert oder wenn sie auf nicht ausschließlich maschinellem Weg entsteht“.
  5. Lauber-Rönsberg in BeckOK UrhR, 2nd ed. (2013), § 72 (14) („zB durch Fotokopien, die Herstellung von Diapositiven oder Einscannen“); Vogel in Schricker/Loewenheim, Urheberrecht, 4th ed. (2008), § 72 (23) („mechanisch durch Foto-, Mikro- oder elektrostatische Kopie oder, nach Abzug eines Negativs, durch nach ihm hergestellte Diapositive, Vergrößerungen, Duplikatnegative oder durch digitale Techniken wie das Scannen“; Meckel in Dreyer/Kotthoff/Meckel, Handkommentar UrhR, 3rd ed. (2013), § 72 (9) („bloße Fotokopien“); Schack, Urheber- und Urhebervertragsrecht, 4th ed. (2007), § 20 (722) („rein mechanische Reproduktionen, etwa im Wege der Fotokopie oder eines Faksimile-Verfahrens“); A. Nordemann in Fromm/Nordemann, UrhR, 10th ed. (2008), § 72 (11) („Fotokopien, drucktechnische Reproduktionsvorlagen, Vergrößerungen vom Negativ oder Positiv sind ebenso wenig Lichtbilder […] wie Scans“); Lehment: Das Fotografieren von Kunstgegenständen. V&R unipress, Göttingen 2008, ISBN 978-3-89971-455-5, p. 27 („Fotokopierer[] und ähnliche[] Geräte[]“).
  6. Original: „[…] Lichtbilder oder ähnliche Erzeugnisse […], die sich lediglich als bloße Vervielfältigung anderer Lichtbilder (oder ähnlich hergestellter Erzeugnisse) […] darstellen, bei denen also ein Original-Lichtbild so getreu wie möglich egal ob im selben Format oder im Wege der Mikro- oder Makrokopie lediglich reproduziert (kopiert) wird. Der Lichtbildschutz erfordert, daß das Lichtbild als solches originär, d.h. als Urbild, geschaffen worden ist.“ (BGH, I ZR 14/88 = GRUR 1990, 669, 673 – Bibelreproduktion; see also BGH, I ZR 146/98 = GRUR 2001, 755, 757 – Werbung auf Telefonkarte).
  7. Article 87, Chapter V, Rights relating to photographs: «[... ] reproductions of works of graphic art [...] shall be considered to be photographs for the purposes of the application of the provisions of this Chapter» (original version).
  8. Article 92, Chapter V: «The exclusive right in respect of photographs shall continue for twenty years from the making of the photograph.»
  9. 上告代理人中村稔、同熊倉禎男の上告理由について​.​ja:顔真卿自書建中告身帖事件
  10. Decree-Law n.o 43/99/M of August 16, 1999 Copyright Law. Retrieved on 2019-05-08.
  11. Zijn foto’s van schilderijen auteursrechtelijk beschermd? (in Dutch) (25 October 2007).
  12. Article 70.
  13. Tekijänoikeuslaki (Finnish Copyright Act) Article 49 a. Retrieved on 2019-05-08.
  14. Lov om opphavsrett til åndsverk m.v. (åndsverkloven) fra 12.mai.1961 Article 43 a.
  15. Article 49 a.
  16. §49.
  17. Legea nr 8/1996 privind dreptul de autor şi drepturile conexe.
  18. Slovakia adopts a new Copyright Act: It’s a Mixed Bag – Part I. Kluwer Copyright Blog (29 February 2016). Retrieved on 9 November 2019.
  19. Ley de Propiedad Intelectual. Retrieved on 2019-05-08.
  20. Blau Guggenheim v. British Broadcasting Corporation BBC,<ref name= BGE 130 (2004) III S. 714-720
  21. Copyright Notice: digital images, photographs and the internet. Copyright Notice Number: 1/2014 Updated: November 2015. UK Intellectual Property Office. Retrieved on 2019-05-08.
Last edited on 4 May 2021, at 09:09
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