Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp.

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Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp.
United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Full case name The Bridgeman Art Library, Ltd. v. Corel Corporation
Date decided February 18, 1999
Citations 36 F. Supp. 2d 191, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1731, 50 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1110
Case history
Prior actions Judgment for defendants, 25 F. Supp. 2d 421 (S.D.N.Y. 1998)
Case opinions
Photographic reproductions of visual works in the public domain were not copyrightable because the reproductions involved no originality. Upon reconsideration and reargument, judgment was again entered for defendants.

Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp., 36 F. Supp. 2d 191 (S.D.N.Y. 1999), was a decision by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, which ruled that exact photographic copies of public domain images could not be protected by copyright because the copies lack originality. Even if accurate reproductions require a great deal of skill, experience and effort, the key element for copyrightability under U.S. law is that copyrighted material must show sufficient originality.


[edit] Facts

The case itself was the result of Bridgeman Art Library questioning the right of Corel Corporation to reproduce high-quality photographic slides that the Library had made from original paintings which were in the public domain.

[edit] Arguments

The library also emphasized that under English and Welsh law, such reproductions seemed to be protected by copyright; the Court rejected that this applied to cases under U.S. jurisdiction (despite the fact that the original case was to be heard under English law) and raised doubts whether the UK attitude towards these reproductions was as legally decisive as was claimed: "While the Court's conclusion as to the law governing copyrightability renders the point moot, the Court is persuaded that plaintiff's copyright claim would fail even if the governing law were that of the United Kingdom."[1]

[edit] Ruling

The court ruled in favor of the defendant Corel Corporation.

[edit] Consequences

The case has enabled broad public use and reuse of older artwork in a large variety of contexts. It has also persuaded several important libraries to drop restrictions on the redistribution of images of out-of-copyright manuscripts.

Several federal courts have followed the ruling in Bridgeman. In Meshwerks vs. Toyota[2], the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit favorably cited Bridgeman vs. Corel, extending the reasoning in Bridgeman to cover 3D wireframe meshes of existing 3D objects. The appeals court wrote "[T]he law is becoming increasingly clear: one possesses no copyright interest in reproductions ... when these reproductions do nothing more than accurately convey the underlying image". Specifically following Bridgeman, the appeals court wrote, "In Bridgeman Art Library, the court examined whether color transparencies of public domain works of art were sufficiently original for copyright protection, ultimately holding that, as 'exact photographic copies of public domain works of art,' they were not." The appeals court ruling cited and followed the United States Supreme Court decision in Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service (1991), explicitly rejecting difficulty of labor or expense as a consideration in copyrightability. This line of reasoning has been followed in other cases, such as Eastern America Trio Products v. Tang Electronic Corp (2000), where it was ruled that there is "very broad scope for copyright in photographs, encompassing almost any photograph that reflects more than 'slavish copying'."[1]

The Bridgeman case has caused great concern among various museums, which rely on income received from licensing photographic reproductions of objects and works in their collections. Some speculate the case would likely not apply to two-dimensional photographs of three-dimensional objects, as the photographic arrangement would plausibly require some creativity.

[edit] United Kingdom implications

Although the ruling in Bridgeman stated that the copyright claim would fail even if the laws of the United Kingdom were used, no version of the case has been brought up in those courts, leaving its applicability to UK law undecided. In particular, copyright protection based on the skill and labor of the creator, known as "sweat of the brow", has been upheld in some UK cases, while being rejected by the US Supreme Court in 1991.[3]

The ruling's citation of English and Welsh law prompted the private Museums Copyright Group in the United Kingdom (UK) to issue a report on the case in 2004.[4] Their opinion piece concluded that the ruling "is not binding in the UK and is of doubtful authority even in the United States. It has not influenced the way museums negotiate or license rights and there have been no serious attempts by commercial users to undermine the position of museums." However, as a group with obvious interests in the outcome of the case, their views cannot be considered disinterested. Nonetheless, major UK museums and libraries continue to claim copyright over photographic reproductions of items in their collections.[5]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b Filler, Stephen C. (December 9, 2006, from Internet Archive)). "Copyright Protection and Subject Matter in Photographs". 
  2. ^ Meshwerks vs. Toyota, [1] (United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit June 17, 2008).
  3. ^ Askanazi, Jennifer et. al. (May 22, 2001). The Future of Database Protection in U.S. Copyright Law. Duke University Law and Technology Review. 
  4. ^ Museums Copyright Group - Copyright in Photographs of Works of Art
  5. ^ see e.g., British Library Imaging Services, Bodleian Library Imaging Services.

[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links

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