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Reusable Art Blog
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Reusable Art is an ever-growing resource for crafters and website designers. The idea behind Reusable Art is to breathe new life into old drawings, photos, and other illustrations that appeared in books, magazines and other periodicals and have since gone out of copyright.
The researchers at Wikipedia were unable to determine the durations of copyrights for the countries that follow. Residents and anyone wishing to create and sell public works in these countries are encouraged to use the information provided to determine the copyright status of images on Reusable Art prior to using any of our images for public works. (List updated March 20, 2012)
The following countries were previously listed as having an unknown copyright duration on Wikipedia and have been updated with new information since this article was first written.
Eritrea and Marshall Islands, according to Wikipedia, have no known copyright laws.
Any country not specifically mentioned extends copyrights no more than 70 years beyond the lifetime of the artist. Most images appearing on Reusable Art fall into this last category, making them copyright free in most of the world. (see update 11/18/10 below for more information)
In the United States, anything published prior to 1923 is no longer copyrighted.
Additionally, US law uses a term of 95 or 120 years after publication to determine copyright duration when the original author is unknown or their date of death can not be determined. For those works attributed to a person, 95 years is used. For those works where no author is listed and/or where the copyrights were owned by a corporation (typically the publisher), the copyrights expire 120 years after publication. To be on the safe side, if we can not determine a date of death or the name of the original author/illustrator, we will consider the image free of copyright if at least 120 years have passed since the work was published.
When a creative work falls out of copyright it is said to be "copyright free" and in the "public domain". That means that the original artists do not have to be paid royalties or any other fees for the use of their work.
According to a copyright specialist at the US Copyright Office, the spirit of a copyright is to allow the original holder of the copyright to enjoy full rights to their work for a limited period of time. After that time, it is hoped that others will build upon the original work and improve upon it.
It is with that spirit of improving on the original work that ReusableArt.com was born.
Public Works Using Images Found on Reusable Art
If you plan on using any of these images in commercial work (stuff you make to sell) you can do so freely as long as you only sell the finished items in a country where the copyright has expired.
Reusable Art only contains images that are copyright free in the United States and where the original author/illustrator has been dead for at least 70 years; making it a public domain work in all those countries who follow the Berne Convention or extend the copyright 70 years after the death of the creator. This means that except for the exceptions noted above and those countries where their copyright laws are listed as unknown, ALL of the images appearing on Reusable Art are in the public domain and may be used for any purpose.
We have included information as to where the artwork originally appeared both to honor their creators and to enable people to investigate the image's copyright status in countries that do not follow the Berne Convention or grant copyright beyond death plus 70 years. Again, every image on this site is in the public domain in the United States.
We hope you enjoy what we are building here and hope you can make use of the free public domain images presented here.
A word about the images posted on ReusableArt.com
We decided to leave the images in their original form rather than work with some of them to make them completely ready for your use. As many of you know with .jpg and other image types, each time a file is edited and resaved there is a certain level of degradation of the image's quality. There are a number of images that contain the original text or other content that would need to removed to use the image for your own work.
Since Reusable Art is a site comprised of art created by others that have gone into the public domain in the United States, we can legally make no claim on any individual image shared on this site.
However, when public domain materials are compiled together, that compilation can be copyrighted by the person who created the compilation. What that means is that while individual items appearing on Reusable Art are copyright free and in the public domain in the United States and most of the rest of the world, the collection of images as a whole are copyrighted to Reusable Art and may not be used in part or it's entirety without written permission from the owner of this site.
Additionally, all text appearing on this site is fully copyrighted by Reusable Art and may not be used without written permission from the owner of this site.
It takes quite a bit of research, time, and money to maintain this site and we hope you can understand our desire to protect our investment by respecting our own copyrights.
Photographs vs. Mechanical Reproductions
I had recently begun adding a number of photographs of public domain paintings to Reusable Art. Through my research, I've come to learn that some countries have different laws when it comes to the technique used to copy public domain works. Every country appears to agree that mechanical copies of public domain works, scans and photocopies, are not granted copyright protection.
Where things start to get messy is when a public domain work is photographed. Some countries, wrongly in my opinion and in the legal opinion of many other countries, believe that photographing a public domain work requires such skill as to be considered a "new" work of art and therefore subject to copyright protection. Such an interpretation seems totally contrary to the original spirit of copyright law which allows the original creator the benefits of their efforts for a set period of time and then the work falls into the public domain where it can be freely shared by everyone.
In some countries, the laws on this are somewhat unclear and still evolving. Other countries, including England, are granting copyrights to photographs of public domain works which is essentially transferring the copyrights of the original artist to the photographer. Many UK museums ban the use of cameras and are effectively establishing themselves as copyright holders over all of the artworks in their collections.
Photographs of three dimensional objects, regardless of the age of the object, are subject to separate laws than photographs of two dimensional objects. Here at Reusable Art, we are focused on copyrights as they relate to two-dimensional works such as printed items (books, magazines, pamphlets etc,) and paintings.
I bring this up, not to bash photographers or portray what they do as not requiring any skills, but to add my small voice to the growing crowd of artisans who find such interpretations of the law ridiculous. I also feel a responsibility to urge anyone outside of the United States who uses any of the photographic images on Reusable Art to educate themselves on the law of copyrights for photographs of public domain works before using images they have found on Reusable Art or elsewhere on the web.
Most of the images on Reusable Art are scanned from old books and magazines and are therefore under standard copyright law. However, there will be a growing number of photographs of paintings being added to Reusable Art that may be protected in some countries.
Any image on Reusable Art that contains a "publication name" was scanned and therefore a "mechanical copy" of an original work. If, on the other hand, the "publication name" is n/a, it is a photograph and that photograph may not be in the public domain in your country.
While not a complete list, here's what the folks on WikiMedia have compiled as to which countries are doing what. Please keep in mind that future lawsuits may create precedents which could change this list and it is your own responsibility to ensure you are complying with your own country's laws.
OK to use photographic copies of 2 dimensional works of art - United States, Germany, Japan, Macao, Poland, Romania and Switzerland.
Court rulings have left the issue somewhat unclear in - France and the Netherlands.
Photographs of public domain works are protected in several countries but their terms vary from standard copyright...
The Nordic countries, including Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden grant copyright protection for photographs of public domain works or other subjects for 50 calendar years since the photograph was produced. Norway also stipulates 15 years p.m.a. This means that a photograph taken on May 5th, 1970 would enjoy copyright protection until January 1, 2021. The new laws went into effect in the early 1990s and each country provided a shorter copyright duration for photographs taken prior to that time. (I encourage anyone living in one of these countries to research your laws before using photographs you find anywhere on the Internet, regardless of the source.)
Spain provides "mere photographs" with 25 years of protection beginning on January 1st of the year following creation.
In Taiwan, if the photographer officially registers the photo, it may be protected for 10 years.
UK - thus far the courts have upheld that the choice of lighting, exposure, filters, etc. required to take a photograph of a public domain work creates enough originality in the photograph so as to be creating a new work. This means that in the UK, a photographer of a public domain work is entitled to copyright protection of his photographs for 70 years after the photographer's death or 50 years after first publication if the photographer is not credited.
Where this stuff gets even messier is how international law comes into play like in a case where a UK photograph is used in the US by a US citizen. The question then becomes which jurisdiction applies. Typically, the location of the offense is where any legal action must take place. The folks at Wikimedia, who are based in the United States, have concluded through their own research and legal advisers that it would be highly unlikely for a US court to uphold a law our own system contradicts.
What all this means is that I had to decide if I should share photographs of public domain works knowing they may not be in the public domain in places like the UK. I decided that the works of art created by artists like Matisse, Rubens, and Cezanne belong to the world and that no photographer should be essentially gifted with ownership of the original masterpiece simply through taking a picture of that masterpiece. It's easy for me to take that stance living in the United States where photographs of public domain works are also in the public domain. I'll leave it up to you as to how you wish to use the images presented on Reusable Art and to research whether or not your country is protecting "non-mechanical" copies of original works in the public domain.