Wednesday, July 11, 2007

SnapVillage use hampered by Corbis corporate view of reproduction rights

After reading about SnapVillage, a new stock photography site sponsored by Microsoft and Corbis, I uploaded five of my images over a week ago, three of 16th century sculptural artwork displayed on public property in Florence, Italy including the sculpture of Hercules battling the Centaur Nessus created by Giovanni Bologna in 1599 (at left), one of a fresco adorning an exterior surface of the Villa Giulia in Rome constructed between 1551 and 1553 and now the National Museum of Etruscan Art owned by the Italian government, and one modern bronze sculpture of Benjamin Franklin purchased by the city of Santa Barbara for public display along a pedestrian walkway.

After a long wait for review, I received notice from SnapVillage that they were requiring property releases for all but one of the images. Their viewpoint is apparently that simple ownership of a piece of public domain art somehow grants the present owner of the work the right to "sell" or "grant" the right to create a derivative work (photograph). This is in direct opposition to the current copyright provisions that place such work in the public domain. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Corbis (aka Microsoft) uses this approach as a rationale to charge publishers hefty sums to use their images of such art. However, if their purpose, as stated in a recent New York Times article, is to capitalize on the vast number of images currently being produced by so-called amateurs or semi-professionals because they fear their core business will be cannibalized by them, they need to abide by current copyright laws and not try to enforce policies developed by corporate marketing interests that do not have the weight of international law.

Copyright was originally instituted to encourage the creativity of artists and creators, not provide a capital asset for business interests who acquire the work. Trying to transfer the copyright from creator to owner is a travesty of the original intent of the law.

Key legal points:
Under the Berne convention, the minimum duration for copyright protection is the life of the author plus 50 years (Art. 7(1)).   Signatory nations may provide longer durations if they so choose.  

Three of my images were taken in Italy, a signator of the Berne convention, as is the United States. Italy since joined
the European Union. To commonize the application of copyright laws in its member nations
the EU enacted Directive 2006/116/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2006 on the term of protection of
copyright and certain related rights (codified version)

"In order to establish a high level of protection which at the same time meets the requirements of the internal market
and the need to establish a legal environment conducive to the harmonious development of literary and artistic creation in the
Community, the term of protection for copyright should be harmonised at 70 years after the death of the author or 70 years after the work is
lawfully made available to the public, and for related rights at 50 years after the event which sets the term running."

It further states:

In the case of anonymous or pseudonymous works, the term of protection shall run for 70 years after the work is
lawfully made available to the public. However, when the pseudonym adopted by the author leaves no doubt as to his identity, or if the
author discloses his identity during the period referred to in the first sentence, the term of protection applicable shall be that laid
down in paragraph 1.

The images I took of the 16th century sculptures are far beyond the maximum time period of copyright protection for such works. Although ownership to the sculptures does not convey any copyright, the owner of the works (the Ufizzi Gallery) has further chosen to display the works outdoors in a public plaza. Therefore, they do not control access to the works with any implied rights by grant of access.

For Corbis to insist upon a property release is ridiculous. If Corbis continues in this interpretation, they deserve to suffer the cannibalism that they fear.
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