An image that can be found in an image provider’s database marked “public domain” does not make it so. Obviously, the recent B.J. Novak odyssey illustrates how far things can go sometimes, but that does not mean his image actually was public domain, that ad agencies and companies were free to use his image on products or in advertising, or that he was without recourse (though he has indicated not being inclined to pursue the end-users). The term “public domain” (like many aspects of intellectual property) gets misused often. The headline of a recent article “How your photo could end up in the public domain – and used in ads around the world” takes a substantial leap and demonstrates the point, though the substance of the article may be helpful.
Just a quick note based on the Second Circuit’s recent ruling in Andy Warhol Found. for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith, where it determined that Warhol’s Prince series was not transformative and therefore was subject to copyright provisions in relation to the reference photograph Warhol used. The court went through a fair use analysis, and the case was primarily concerning copyright, but it is interesting to contrast this decision with the Comedy III case, which was primarily Right of Publicity-related. In Comedy III, the Three Stooges artwork was held to not be sufficiently transformative, and the court used Warhol’s Blue Marilyn as the example of a work that would, in contrast, and in the court’s estimation, be sufficiently transformative. I’ll let those motivated to seek more run their own searches rather than post links here, as there is no lack of content, analysis and discussion being offered on this recent ruling. I have not, as yet, seen reference to the contrast with the Comedy III case, so I thought it may be useful to note it here.