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Lesson Plans

Re: publishing photos of public art

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Sun, 17 Mar 1996 17:24:44 -0500

Dear Nancy,

Its been awhile since my ASA courses in personal property appraising but a
rough overview of the publication of images is that copyright laws in the
U.S. are based on our government's concern to provide an incentive to those
who create by offering protection from unlawful use of images or ideas.

All property is usually described as having or consisting of a "bundle of
rights." In relation to works of art one aspect of this conceptual idea is
the right to benefit from the publication of an image of ones art. Before
the copyright law of 1976 all rights assigned to a work were assumed to be
transferred to the buyer unless stated at the time of the sale. After the
1976 law, (went into effect in Jan. 1, 1978) the creator usually retained
publication rights unless stated in the contract. An exception are works
that have been created by an employee of the owner, (the owner own copyrights
benefits) however an independent contractor commissioned to do a piece owns
the copyright unless stated in their original contract. Thus an artist may
sell a work but retain the right to benefit from publishing photographs of
this work.

Once a work has been created, exhibited, shown and stored, etc., it doesn't
necessarily need to have a registered copyright unless its image has been
published. Since March 1, 1989 when the U.S. became a part to the Berne
Copyright Convention (international protection) some aspects of our copyright
laws have changed. Basically when an image goes into the public domain,
(e.g.. if pictures of it reproduced in newspapers, magazines etc.) the
photographs must have the standard copyright symbol attached to the images or
it becomes part of the public domain. If by chance a photo of an artist's
work (even a maquette) happened to be published, lets say as a news piece,
the artist (or owner of the work) has three months from the first date of
publication, to apply for and receive copyright protection, (also see Letter
Edged in Black Press, Inc. v. Public Building Commission of Chicago 1970),
otherwise the image is fair game.

The city of Dallas, or the owner of the copyrights of the sculpture in
question, has a right to benefit from all publication of this image. You
might first check with the artist or their heirs, (who own copyrights for 50
years after the artist's death). This all might seem a bit involved but far
too often has the artist been exploited by the business man, who knows
perhaps part of that situation is where the expression, 'starving artist'
came from.

I hope this can be of some help and encouragement.

David Wood
Santa Monica, CA