Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Is there anything that can’t be copyrighted?

On 12th January 2012 a London Court came to the conclusion that one company had breached the copyright of another by using an image of a London Bus in front of the Houses of Parliament. In both images the London bus was in red but all the background elements were in a flat monochrome. But there the similarities end and you can see them both here.

The two photographs were taken at different vantage points, taken at a different time and even the buses are slightly different.According to a lawyer quoted by Amateur Photographer: 'His honour Judge Birss QC decided that a photograph of a red London bus against a black and white background of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, with a blank sky, was similar enough to another photograph of the same subject matter to infringe copyright.' 

Aged Big Ben
Image from iStockphoto
Ok so what about this image from iStockphoto. It ticks the same boxes as the two in the court case, so should iStockphoto remove it from their catalogue or will I be taken to court if I pay for an extended license and use it on the packaging of my new brand of Red Bus Chocolate Buttons?Debate about what can be patented or copyrighted started in the United States in 1790 when the first patent was issued and in England in 1449 when King Henry VI granted one to John of Utynam.

More recently in the world of TV, in the 1980's Quantel successfully destroyed the company that made a graphic design package called Pastiche that worked in a similar way to the Quantel Paintbox, the then market leader. Quantel proved in court that they had the patent for mixing colours in a palette, just like artists have been doing for thousands of years, and the Pastiche could not use this way of mixing colours. At the time there wasn't a viable alternative and the product died.

Unfortunately common sense rarely applies in case of copyright - I would like to see the "don't be so ridiculous" plea made admissible in court - something that Apple lawyers have made into an art form. So now I need a way of copyrighting every image I take or film without it costing me anything - ideas?

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