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DigitalJournal.com Tip #41: How to legally take a photo of artwork

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By David Silverberg
Posted Jul 17, 2012 in Arts
A challenge facing many photojournalists is the legality over snapping pics of artwork such as painting and sculptures. It's something we have to confront on Digital Journal, too.
We follow this policy: if your photo contains solely the artwork, it is considered a reproduction of the artwork and constitutes a copyright violation.
As WIPO notes, "Photographing a copyright work amounts to reproducing it."
So if you take a pic of the Mona Lisa, and only the painting is visible and nothing else, you shouldn't attribute yourself as the author (in the photo's Attribution field). It should state the creator of that artwork, since you are making a reproduction of that copyrighted work.
The Attribution field should read: "Photo reproduction by David Silverberg/Mona Lisa by Leonard da Vinci". You cover all the bases by making sure you credit the artist.
I spoke to copyright lawyer Michael Geist about this issue and he explained no copyright clearance is needed for artwork in the public domain. Art becomes public domain 50 years after an artist's death.
Reporters can make the argument about a piece of art being newsworthy and key to add colour to their story, thus allowing them to include artwork in their news articles without asking for copyright permission, Geist tells me. That's called fair use in the U.S. and fair dealing in Canada. You just have to make certain the art you photograph is essential to the context of your article.
It's always advisable to contact a museum's PR department to learn about photographing artwork. Some galleries and museums may not allow tripod photography or flash pics, for instance. And if you go to a gallery, try to talk to the gallery staff, to get reproduction permission. Sometimes, you might not get an answer quickly but don't give up on trying to get copyright permission.
Any questions about this policy? Let us know in the comments section

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