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Public domain, expired copyrights, and stock vectors...


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#1 helix7

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 09:15 PM

Seems like there are a good amount of images here on SS that likely came from source material in the public domain. Old illustrations from books, maps, etc. Or at least the material was old enough to assume it's in the public domain.

It got me wondering if some of this stuff is really public domain, how you would know an old image is usable, and if anyone here would use it. The "official" rule here seems to be that we create whatever we upload, and own the rights to it. Obviously that's not an entirely concrete rule as public domain photos are used in stock images all the time, and public domain maps are source material for every vector map in microstock.

How about illustrations? If you had a really old book or something, is it safe to assume that if it's more than 100 years old it can be used as source material for stock?

Anyone here using old public domain stuff in their vector work?

#2 subarashii21

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 02:36 AM

I think there are many contributors here who use very old books or printed materials to create the vectors from them and they are very successful sellers.. I personally would feel odd using some other author art even though he is hundred years old. But since the images are approved by Shutterstock, I think its up to you.

#3 subarashii21

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 02:51 AM

But I wonder about one thing, lets say two Shutterstock contributors own the same old book and both of them, not knowing about each other, copy the same old illustration from it.. Then they both submit it, at different times. The one who submitted it first will probably complain that the second one "copied" it from him and have Shutterstock take some actions against it.. While in fact, both of them copied from some old author.. so the contributor who was fast enough to submit it first gains the new copyright to that illustration? weird..

poor hundred years old authors who cant defend themselves at Shutter forums :)

#4 helix7

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 07:25 AM

...The one who submitted it first will probably complain that the second one "copied" it from him and have Shutterstock take some actions against it...


That's one of the things that worries me. Using public domain images may not be against the rules, but it does open you up to added risk of accusations of copying, potentially getting your account suspended, etc. What's to stop someone from wanting to prevent competition and sending an email to SS saying that you copied their image?

I also wonder if SS might ever change their stance on public domain works. A while back there was a popular phohoshop filter widely used that was allowed legally to be used to create stock images. But then SS changed their policy on that filter and deleted tons of images from the collection.

Seems risky to use public domain stuff.

#5 subarashii21

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 08:08 AM

I think this is a very "grey" area. I dont understand how can Shutterstock protect the copyright of a vector which is an exact copy of some very old illustration taken from a publicly accessible book.

It may be a rare and very old book but unless you are the only one who owns it, you cant guarantee that someone, somewhere, will not do exactly the same thing. And who has the copyright to this vector then?

Because if the source image is public, anyone can copy it. It doesnt need to be another Shutterstock contributor, it may be anyone who owns the same book or finds the scan of the book on internet. Then you have two "creators", two basically the same vectors and the clash of copyrights here, how can this be protected by Shutterstock, thats beyond my understanding.. and yet, they accepted such images without wink of an eye.

#6 darla

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 09:22 AM

Sometimes the image is not a direct copy of a public domain image. Also, reviewers don't know everything in the world.

Consider this one.

Posted Image

Is this a copy of public domain material? What if the colors were changed, using a bright white background, and more intense colors?

#7 subarashii21

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 10:04 AM

Exactly - the reviewers cant be a walking-talking encyclopedia of public images so they cannot know everything.

They will accept what they think looks good - whether it is a unique artistic creation of contributor or a mere copy of some illustration from an old book. They think business and vintage sells.

So I think its up to every contributor to judge whats right and what is on the edge and could bring him to troubles.

#8 cthoman

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 10:15 AM

You assume no two people's vectorizing of a public domain image will be exactly the same. That said, I wouldn't want to get involved with public domain images either. But don't listen to me because I like doing things the hard way.

#9 subarashii21

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 11:12 AM

It depends, it can look pretty much the same if both own the same old book with beautiful old illustrations, go for the exact copy look and are talented enough to make it..

I just dont know how fiercely would Shutterstock protect the copyrights of such vector if a very similar or almost the same illustration was found elsewhere on the web or in printed material.

But I guess Shutter knows better, its their site after all, they know the ropes.

#10 alexronay

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 11:52 AM

It depends, it can look pretty much the same if both own the same old book with beautiful old illustrations, go for the exact copy look and are talented enough to make it..

I just dont know how fiercely would Shutterstock protect the copyrights of such vector if a very similar or almost the same illustration was found elsewhere on the web or in printed material.

But I guess Shutter knows better, its their site after all, they know the ropes.

look up stopwatch or wrist watch under illustrations. You'll find different contributors with the same or similar images. I had raised that up before, but I came to the conclusion that so long as the original version is public domain, the site won't mind. Replicating copyrighted images is the main issue. I remember seeing traced images of coloring books on another site and the contributor had been selling them regularly. I emailed support on that site when I found they were under copyright and the contributor was deleted from the site.

I'm a firm believer in quality and rareness, the site would benefit from having unique work vs having multiple duplications of older or public domain images.

#11 davidarts

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 12:13 PM

I don't remember the link but US law for copyrights said that over 120year from publications you can use the source and trace it, but shuttestock require you to upload the SOURCE file for your illustration (the scanned page of source and title of the book).

In certain cases you can also use images after 70 year s after the day of publications.

However if you read the law it's almost clear.

Over 120.. you're 99,9% sure that it could be done.

BUT.. if you always UPLOAD the source against the veector no-one could accuse you to copyright, because if it's accepted then it's reviewer rensposability. But You have to PROVIDE the source for you trace. that's it :-D

#12 subarashii21

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 12:15 PM

I admit I didnt have this type of public domain images on my mind. I even dont know what all falls under public domain category as I must say I never looked for it.

A stopwatch would not bother me. I rather thought of the beautiful illustrations in old books, e.g. from 17th century, maps, animals, plants, all hand-drawn.. As there was an original question, how old a book must be that using its illustrations as a model for vector is "safe". In my opinion, no matter how old the book is, its just stealing the art.

But people do it, here and elsewhere.. To me its just questionable - if the source is accesible to more people, how the copyright for such vector should be protected then (even if two people cant make 100% same vector from the same source).

However, as to the public domain images, there is a clear sentence right in the Content Editor - "Do not upload public domain images, public domain vectors, or anything that you yourself didn't create or photograph."

Its cunning that its not mentioned there "do not upload vectors drawn exactly according public domain images" :) So - contributors take their risks as long as the money is worth it :)

#13 davidarts

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 12:19 PM

However, as to the public domain images, there is a clear sentence right in the Content Editor - "Do not upload public domain images, public domain vectors, or anything that you yourself didn't create or photograph."


I think that by uploading the SOURCE files you're safe. Before upload one of the only 2 or 3 set I have from a 120 years old book (birds, ships and other animals)I have contacted SS support and they said that it's ok to upload but along with the source page in the property release....

#14 subarashii21

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 12:31 PM

Then it seems Shutter knows how to handle it and they know the US laws (although there may be different laws in other countries, as we sell world-wide).

I still wouldnt do it but it seems its ok for those who dare.

#15 darla

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 04:20 PM

Anyone with half a brain, who is reviving vintage images as vectors, should be able to figure out that someone with the same book could do the same thing.

So there are three options.

1. Use the public domain image as a starting point for a new image.

2. Copy the public domain image, understanding that you will not be able to protect your image if someone else uses the same source. Hope nobody else does.

3. Use the image, and sell it with full disclosure of where you got it.

#16 subarashii21

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 12:36 AM

Yes.. And people who own both halves of brain and some basic morals could do another thing - ignore public domain images, ignore art of old masters who spent long weeks drawing it three hundred years ago and just create your own original vectors.. wouldnt that be the easiest solution?

#17 davidarts

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 02:37 AM

Yes.. And people who own both halves of brain and some basic morals could do another thing - ignore public domain images, ignore art of old masters who spent long weeks drawing it three hundred years ago and just create your own original vectors.. wouldnt that be the easiest solution?


This could be a way of think and it is correct BUT: this is not a traditional gallery art, this is a BUSINESS and business mean improved gain and profits and if the the law allow the use of old masterpieces then there's nothing wrong in use it for this purpose.

Think about Dante's Divine Comedy. thousand miles of copiees has been created starting from the original and editors sell it everywhere because after "some" years books are public domain. That's different environment but same concept: "use old masterpieces to create new products to sell" and off course you're not claiming the copyright because you upload source file along with the eps.

So if thing are done following the rules to me there's nothing wrong.

#18 subarashii21

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 03:23 AM

I admit I didnt know that the source scanned illustration must be submitted along with the vector - which means there is different level of copyright protection provided by Shutterstock. Originally I thought that all vectors sold at Shutterstock are given the same kind of protection, now it makes some sense though Im still curious how this would be handled in real situation, if someone complained about "similarity" of two vectors traced from the same source. But hopefully people have enough wisdom not to do it, no matter how big portion of brain they possess :)

I fully understand your points about business-like character of this site but the idea of scanning an old illustration made by someone else, then turning it to a vector and selling as your own (even though with somewhat reduced copyrights) does not sound right to me. Its true its just a way of thinking and as you said - the law allows it.

Still, I would like to see more contributors here creating original illustrations. It surely requires great skills to make an exact copy of someone elses art, then why not to use these skills in more original way :)

#19 elenamaria

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 03:53 AM

Yes if the law says it is ok, and it is, the copyright expires. And if SS admits these images I don't see anything wrong with it. Artists have copied each other all the time. I don't think contributors who use public domain images as source are going to report anyones elses vector made from the same book, that would be ridicolous.

#20 subarashii21

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 04:21 AM

Of course, the contributors who do this thing themselves will not see anything wrong with it, that would lack logic.




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