I have the good fortune of having a site that ranks relatively high in search engines. But this also means that I have the misfortune of easily attracting the attention of anyone out there who might object to something on my site, or who might want to claim that I'm infringing their copyright by my use of some material. So, in the past, I've had National Geographic
threaten me, plus I've had complaints from the Time Travel Mutual Fund
and the Human-Flavored Tofu Company
(see below), among others.
Now the British Science and Society Picture Library
has joined this list. They've sent me a cease-and-desist letter
demanding that I either remove all images of the Cottingley Fairies
from my site, or pay them a licensing fee for their use.
This raises an interesting legal question. The Cottingley Fairy images were taken in 1917 and published (in England) in 1920. They were also published in America. The earliest American publication of them that I'm aware of is the American edition of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Coming of the Fairies
(George H. Doran Co., New York, 1922).
U.S. law states that everything published in America before 1923 is now in the public domain. Therefore, in America the Cottingley fairy images are in the public domain. But the law in the U.K. is that the images remain under copyright for 70 years after the death of the photographer. The two women who took the images died in the 1980s, so the images will remain copyrighted in Britain until around 2050.
So do the British copyrights have any legal status in America? I'm not sure. The closest parallel I can find is the case of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, which is copyrighted in the UK, but is in the public domain in the US. Efforts to enforce the UK copyrights in America have not been successful
. When Project Gutenberg made the text of Peter Pan freely available on its site
, it simply added a disclaimer noting that the text was public domain in the U.S., but not elsewhere.
So for now I'm telling the Science and Society Picture Library that the images are remaining exactly where they are. I've already traded five or six emails with them about this, and they don't seem willing to give up their claim. But I don't think they have a valid case, so I'm not budging.
I'm with you, I think it would be difficult to do anything based upon UK copyright laws when the work in question was published in the US prior to 1923.
But if it were me threatened with a lawsuit, I'd fold quicker than an Origami Stork!
Good Luck and keep us in the loop. :grrr:
"YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!!!"
The Fairies are in the public domain (and besides, weren't they a hoax to begin with?). If the Brits are too uptight to recognize this, give'em a long-overdue enema and keep holding your head high.
If I, or one of my fellow UK residents was to purposely download them and store them on my computer, then that would be of questionable legality.
They could only possibly sue you under US copyright law, which, as you say, they wouldn't have a leg to stand on.
I think you're likely in the right, but you may need a puffed-up sounding third party to throw some citations at them to get them to back off, or give you some triangulation on close-calls.
If I were looking for such a person, I'd start with 'Lawyers for the Arts' and such groups which tend to be less ... mercenary ... than some other lawyer groups. There may also be court decisions online about people who did reviews of this or that, who were sued by offended owners, which you could cite in your email exchanges. Remember the beef/Oprah fuss a few years back?
Now, if it was Sony, they have enough money and influence to start suing people left and right just to show how big their balls are, and they wouldn't even need to care about the money and time it would take.
But let's ask ourselves this: how much harm could having these pictures really be doing to the British Science and Society Picture Library? Are they losing money because thousands of Americans are downloading fairie pics from Alex's site instead of paying the Library for their use? I *don't* think so.
Furthermore, and even more salient: how much money and time do you think the British Science and Society Picture Library has to actually get cases brought to trial? How much money for extraneous lawyers' fees could a friggin' library possibly have to spend?
There *is* one thing that might be an issue: Your book has one of the photos in it. While it's printed in the US, does it violate laws if someone in the UK buys it and has it shipped to them?
In any case, I'd simply tell them 'I'm sorry, you'll have to get in line behind the guy who makes human-flavored tofu and claims I'm ruining his business...'
The book definitely doesn't violate any laws because I paid an archive almost $300 to get a high-resolution version of the image. In the process I acquired world rights (for the book).
Personally, I think you should take this tack:
1) Elves and Fairies are traditionally supposed to live for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
2) Publishing images of living persons for monetary gain requires (in most nations) the permission of the subject.
3) As such, the Faeries in question are having their Rights Violated unless the "Science and Society Picture Library" can supply Documentaed Proof that the fairies in question gave permission for the pictures.
So take that! And they should watch themselves, too... those fairies will most likely still be alive, and they're nasty wee buggers when they get annoyed...
Or, of course, you can take the course of going to a Faerie Ring yourself, performing something odd and New Age (probably at night and involving herbs and rainwater) and then come back claiming that you, personally, have spoken to the Fey in question, and that they gave you PERSONAL permission to continue. Call it a Religious Freedom issue... that'll gett'im
Keep up the fight
Being that your a resident to san fran. your website is based in the U.S.
They can only ask you to take them off they would have to sue you in a us court to make you take them off. But, any judge who had half a brain would decide in your favor (being that you broke no laws in the US)
The creator of the photograph (or other media) has the copyright and when he/she has died the copyright goes to the lawful inheritants (family).
Those two girls have grown old and died. Did they have children? There will be some family left... Tell the British Science and Society Picture Library you will ask the girls' relatives for permission and that you'd love to hear their opinion on an institute unlawfully claiming a licensing fee which is their right only.
It's the British Science and Society Picture Library, not the whole country/countries...
Yeah, but the point is, Sony has deep enough pockets that they could lose a frivolous lawsuit once a week and not even feel any adverse effects from it. They could blow a million dollars suing me for failing to be sufficiently Rockin' just to have something to do on a slow Friday, lose all the money, and nobody at Sony would even have to worry about their bonuses. A smaller corporate entity that lost one or two court cases like this could find themselves bankrupted and ruined.
So my point was: can the British Science and Society Picture Library really afford to bring baseless, frivolous lawsuits against anybody? Or would it close their doors if they lost such a suit? If it would (and that seems plausible), then they're just making noise--they're not going to risk shutting down just to prove a semantic point by suing somebody over a stupid situation like this.
They may very well possess the original prints, but the object and the copyright on that object are two different things.
When an artist sells or donates me one of his paintings, the copyright remains his. The copyright belongs to the creator, not the owner of the painting. This means I can't produce postcards with the image of his painting without permissio of the original artist, nor can I ask others a licensing fee for publicizing an image of the painting.
It can't be different for photographers and their photographs.
The British Science and Society Picture Library is simply mistaken by thinking they have the copyright because they have the original print in their collection.
"See, your honor, we're defending our copyright by sending cease-and-desist letters to potential infringers."
Now tell the nice people that their laws (the pics are still copyrighted) don't apply to our laws (the pics are in the public domain) & send them on their merry way.
I studied our (UK) intellectual property law quite a while ago but from what I remember of it:
The photographs will be covered by copyright as long as the photographer who took them died less than 70 years ago (given the cease and desist letter I think you can assume this to be the case).
Under a series of international copyright law conventions UK copyright is valid in the US and vice versa.
As a result you may be committing a civil offence in the US.
I am not a lawyer and like I say this is just what I can remember but you would probably be well advised to either consult a lawyer or take the photos down.
Hope this helps,
My $0.02 --intjudo, too lazy to log in
they can shout till tomorow your O.K
For such photographs, where copyright has been revived, which is the only way copyright can still subsist in photographs of this age, there are different rules which could affect who owns the revived copyright"
The photos would have been out of copyright in the early 1970's (50 years after they were taken) and copyright could only have been revived if in 1988 they were copyrighted in another EU country with longer terms of copyright.