The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0319  Tuesday, 15 February 2000.

From:           Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 14 Feb 2000 15:10:00 -0500
Subject: 11.0300 Re: Rights to Images
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0300 Re: Rights to Images

Tom Reedy wrote:

>Larry, is there any way you could give us the short-and-dirty version
>for those of us who don't want to subscribe to (yet another) list?  I
>was under the impression that a copyright expires so many years (75?)
>after the artist's death, after which the work goes into the public
>My original query asked about how a government can hold a copyright on
>the image of a 400-year-old public document, such as Shakespeare's will,
>his deposition in the Belott-Mountjoy suit, his marriage license, etc.

I am very reluctant to make any statement online about what the law is,
might be or should be, for fear that someone might contend that I was
giving legal advice.  I disclaim doing so in this and any other post.
There are very few, if any, strict issues of law.   Almost all questions
are fact specific, and the answers will vary with the circumstances (and
the lawyers who answer them).  So, anyone who has a need for legal
advice should consult a respected lawyer.

That said, I have no idea what the answer to Tom's question is.  Three
possibilities occur to me:

1) HM government is the beneficiary of a special statute exempting it
from the normal expiration of copyright (and another special statute
conferring the copyright on the Crown in documents the government did
not create); or

2) HM gov't is overreaching; or

3)  HM gov't is not claiming a copyright interest at all, but something
else such as a reproduction fee.  This is not unusual.  Consider this
case:  Suppose you are writing a biography of Shakespeare and want to
include the Droeshout and Chandos prints.  They are in the public
domain, but where would you get copies adequate for reproduction?  You
would probably go to a photographic stock house that specializes in
historical or artistic subjects.  It would supply you with reproducible
transparencies and charge you for doing so.  The contract might be
framed in terms of a "license fee," which would probably vary with the
extent of use you propose to make and would limit your use to an agreed
number of editions of the Shakespeare biography.  While this looks like
a copyright license fee, it is really something else.  It is a charge to
cover the stock house's costs in acquiring, storing, indexing,
retrieving, etc., the photograph, plus a profit.  The fee needs to be
based on the extent of use, or someone who was making only a modest use
(e.g., a one-time slide show in her high school class) would have to pay
as much as someone who was going to reproduce the picture in a widely
sold book.  The contract also needs to restrict the customer to only the
agreed use; otherwise, because there is no copyright restraint, anyone
could obtain the image for a one-time high school slide show and then
use it in multiple editions of a popular book.

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