If I photograph a document that is out of copyright, do I get a new copyright to that photograph?

If I photograph a document that is out of copyright, do I get a new copyright to that photograph? I’m trying to understand the copyright issues with documents owned by the British Library that are out of copyright but they have on microfilm.

David on Dec 24, 2008

A straight-on photo of a document does not get copyright since there is no originality involved. See originality. A landmark case on this is Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel, 1999 which ruled that there can be no copyright “where a photograph of a photograph or other printed matter is made that amounts to nothing more than slavish copying.”. Thus, you do not get copyright. But the British Library probably does not have copyright over the microfilm image either. Even if they do, their copyright might not prevent photographing the document (see Harper & Row v. Nation Enterprises, 1985: “copyright does not prevent subsequent users from copying from a prior author’s work those constituent elements that are not original”). If the documents themselves are out of copyright, then it would seem that there are no copyright issues involved. The Library may have a policy on how photos are taken.

originality

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