Permission is required to reproduce a photograph, although once it’s on the internet, that permission is seldom requested. But what about the image? Who owns the copyright of that?
The question of who owns the copyright of an image was raised by my son-in-law Ross when he requested the right to use Audrey Hepburn’s image for an advertising campaign. Ross contacted her family and they turned him down flat.
The image in question was the one where she’s holding a cigarette for the “Breakfast at Tiffiny’s” advertising campaign. Ross wanted to change the cigarette to a ‘vape’ (e-cigarette). Their reason for refusal was that their mother had died from cancer and they did not want to have her image associated with smoking in any form.
My first thought was, “I can understand why.”
Out of respect for the family, I will not reproduce either image here, but it made me stop and ponder the question of copyright.
The Swans of Dartington Hall
In 1991, Morwenna Lloyd and I formed a short term publishing partnership called “Quill, Inc”. We worked on several Fountain Trust Publishing projects during the following two years, including “The Wellspring”, which I shall be reviewing shortly on these page.
We also had posters made of a photograph I took at Dartington Hall, Devon. It was a statue of two swans, set in a fountain on the grounds of the Dartington Hall Trust. We then tried to market them through the Dartington Hall Trust, only to be told that they hold the copyright of the image of the swans and that we could not use it.
I wrote back to them, explaining that, although they hold the copyright of the statue, they can not control what I did with a photograph of it that I had taken personally. We never heard back from them.
The Spirit Catcher of Barrie
Now, all these years later, I have come up against the same thinking again. Here is Wikipedia’s entry for the Spirit Catcher.
“Ron Baird’s Spirit Catcher is a sculpture originally created by sculptor Ron Baird for Expo 86 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It is now situated on the shore of Kempenfelt Bay, in Barrie, Ontario, Canada.
“Nine sculptors were asked to submit proposals for Expo 86, and two were chosen to be commissioned. The sculpture took six months to sculpt using COR-TEN steel; this alloy develops a non-corrosive oxide and retains its structural integrity. The work was originally installed on the Expo 86 exhibition grounds in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“After the end of the exposition, the sculpture was purchased by the Helen McCrea Peacock Foundation in Toronto for CAD $230,000. The foundation then donated the sculpture to the ‘Barrie Gallery Project’ as an inspiration to create an art gallery in the city of Barrie, Ontario, Canada. The twenty ton, 25 m (70 ft) wide by 21 m (65 ft) tall sculpture was transported to Barrie using two flatbed trucks, and was installed by volunteers and two cranes. It took two days during the weekend of 12 June and 13 June 1987, and was dedicated on 12 September 1987.
“The sculpture has 16 kinetic quills, which rock back and forth when the wind blows. Several months after it was erected on the site in Barrie, the unpredictable winds coming onshore from Kempenfelt Bay caused concern that the quills might fall off. The quills were redesigned by the artist with the assistance of Mike Davies, the recently retired vice president of advanced engineering at de Havilland aircraft.
The sculpture is a focal point on the Barrie waterfront, and serves as both a meeting place and navigational aid to travellers and citizens of the city alike. The installation of the sculpture initiated a drive to place numerous pieces of art around the city which continues to this day”
The owner of the sculpture is the MacLaren Art Centre. It seems that if you want to reproduce a picture of the Spirit Catcher, you need to contact them for permission.
Does this happen in other parts of the world? Is the Sydney Opera House image subject to copyright, for example? Is the Taj Mahal? What about all those tourists who merrily snap photos of local landmarks and post them on their social networking pages? Do they need permission every time?
There is something not quite (copy)right about this way of thinking. Next thing, we’ll have to “declare the pennies on our eyes…”
Photo credit: Barrie Spirit Catcher courtesy of MacLaren Art Centre