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Collaged Covers and copyright

Nicholette Hart wrote:

> What I got taught in one workshop, which legally I dont know how
> accurate it is but the logic sounded good. Copyright laws apply to
> copying something. If you arent copying but using the original clippings
> then it is not an issue. Its like anything that you make that you buy
> the supplies for, when the magazine is bought copyright/licence fees etc
> are covered for that copy of the image, so as long as you dont copy it
> again but use the one from the magazine you are OK.

This, too, is not correct.  You do *not* buy the copyright/license fees when you
buy a magazine.  A person can only get permission to use someone else's work
through a contractual transfer of those rights.  When you, as an artist, create a
work and sell it, unless specified in the bill of sale, the person who purchases
your work does not own the copyright.  You, the artist, retain copyright of your
work until you sign a contract to transfer that right to someone else.  This
protects you.  If the new owner of your artwork takes that artwork and puts it on
a t-shirt without obtaining legal ownership of the copyright from you, and makes
millions of dollars (this is only an example, not necessarily realistic), he has
committed copyright infringement and you can sue him for the profits of which you
were deprived.

The grey area with collages is that the collage artist is using someone else's
work to create another piece of artwork which the collage artist will sell for his
own gain.  In other words, the collage artist is making a profit off of someone
else's work without having obtained permission to use that work, in theory
depriving the original creator of his rightful profits and possibly using that
work in a manner which the original creator finds objectionable.  This is
happening now with sound sampling, for which there have been a rash of lawsuits,
and collages seem very similar in principal.

To answer another reply directed at me, I do not necessarily approve of or endorse
the way the laws have been enforced or interpreted up to now.  That is another
issue and I am dealing only with the direction given by court decisions on this
matter up to this point.  This is a double-edged sword--it keeps people from
depriving you of money made from your work, but then it can also seem to inhibit
creativity, such as in the collage issue.

This is a difficult issue, and court decisions can contradict each other, making
it even more difficult for people to know what to do.  Often there are no absolute
answers.  I have even heard a lawyer say one can be guided by what one thinks he
can get away with--how big is the audience; is what you have used easily
recognizable, or is it such a small protion that it could be almost anything; what
are the chances of your being caught?

My advice would be, if you are worried, consult a lawyer.

Pamela Rups
Computer Multimedia Specialist
University Computing Services
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo, MI  49008
(616) 387-5016

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