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Photographer secures the copyright to artist’s drawings of his photos

This in from PAN listed photographer John Walmsley who has successfully pursued the copyright to an artists copy of one of his images, the article first ran on John’s own website and is republished here with a full link to the conclusion

John Walmsley: When an artist made drawings of my photos

Artists have always ‘paid homage to’ or ‘taken inspiration from’ earlier work. But at what point does this become copying – rather than being a springboard for genuinely new work? In the UK, the courts use a rule of thumb that, if you lay the original and newer versions side by side and a layperson could see a connection, then there is likely to be an offence under the Copyright Act.

An artist made graphite-pencil-on-paper versions of four of the photos, from my book ‘Neill & Summerhill’, about the famous democratic school in Suffolk.

The one above was bought by the Whitney Museum, New York, which displayed it on their website but with credit going only to the artist, no mention of my original photo or book.

So, I contacted the Whitney and they added a line: ‘This drawing is a precise hand copy of a black-and-white photograph by the British photojournalist John Walmsley… who in 1968 published a book of photographs of the Summerhill School.’

, Summerhill school, Leiston, Suffolk, UK. 1968.

So far, so good. But, as copyright exists only in original works but not in copies, I reckoned the artist could not own any copyright in these drawings – I did. The Museum would credit me as the copyright holder only if the artist signed a document agreeing it, or if there were a court ruling to that effect.

The NUJ gave me a great deal of help with this situation and even paid for a specialist barrister’s opinion which, broadly speaking, was that I had a very strong case under several headings.

Happily, before I sent the papers to begin legal action, the artist signed the necessary document confirming that I had always been the copyright owner of her drawings of my photos. I had not claimed any money because this was more a matter of principle, but she did voluntarily make a generous donation to Summerhill School, for which I and the school are very grateful. So, an amicable resolution.
Cont….on John’s blog page here.

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