Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Brought To You By The Man Who Owns Regents Street

Have you ever had the experience of walking across a cow-field in the dark, never quite sure of where you are about to put your foot? Copyright is a bit like that, especially the copyright that may or may not exist on old images. My thoughts turned to this messy subject after reading a report about someone in Florida who decided to scan some old family photographs of long departed relatives in the local Wal-Mart store. Even though the photographs were over 80 years old and the subjects were all long-dead, the Wal-Mart employee refused to allow the scanning because it would be an infringement of copyright. 

Copyright law is a bit like a box of matches : the matches can be quite legitimately used to light a fire to keep you warm, or light a fine Havana cigar to keep you sane; but they can also be used to burn down an art gallery. Copyright law can provide protection for those who have created something of value, but it can also be used as a nonsensical cash-cow. All we need to remember is that every time we sing "Happy Birthday To You" we are supposed to pay some corporation somewhere because the tune is still under copyright.

This week on Sepia Saturday I have used a photograph of the kitchens at Windsor Castle which was taken in 1878. Whilst in the process of cutting and pasting the image I was a little surprised to discover that my old friend, HM the Queen, is claiming copyright on the image. Recent reports suggest that the dear lady has a personal fortune of some $500 million which makes her claim of copyright on the kitchen photograph a little over the top.

I have chosen to illustrate this little moan with a picture of Regent Street in 1923. It is a scan of a photograph in an old book I bought in a junk shop several years ago. The book itself was over 70 years old and the photograph must be nearly 80 years old. The question is, of course, can I reproduce the image here? Some would say that when I scanned the image I created a new work which I now have copyright on. This puts me in the remarkable position of owning the copyright on Regents Street, a street which, I understand, HM travels down frequently in her coach and horses on the way to some state occasion or other. So I will finish with a personal offer to my monarch : if you let me use your kitchen, I will let you trot down Regents Street. You can't say fairer than that.


  1. You might as easily have been talking about Human Rights legislation.

  2. I think you should have photo-shopped her being transported while sprawled inside the cart of the man with the bicycle. You know, legs dangling over the side, hat askew. Perhaps her eyeglasses held together at one corner with black electrician's tape. It's not that I don't like your queen - I'm rather fond of her eldest son, but I find my fun where I can.

    It is a great photo and I think the exchange you've offered is more than fair.

  3. Have you been threatened with The Tower then Alan?

    1. ... or you could threaten her with a visit to Halifax.

  4. Obviously the clerk at the Walmart store is an officious idiot! And congratulations on your new acquisition; I have great faith that you'll administer Regents St. with fairness and panache.

  5. That building on the right must have been destroyed in WWII, as it's vagualy similar, but different now:,+london&hl=en&ll=51.510031,-0.134276&spn=0.000933,0.002637&sll=51.532818,-2.376483&sspn=0.015564,0.042186&hnear=Regent+St,+London,+United+Kingdom&t=m&z=19&layer=c&cbll=51.510031,-0.134276&panoid=EPk8ibDTdl0ZJ_Ne0ejYsA&cbp=12,276.1,,0,-11.28

  6. People can get really stupid over copyright law. I had to do a bunch of research on it for my last job and it is weird how some people can be so trivial, particularly those with Ph.D.'s. I think we all just like to argue in a sad attempt to prove who is the smartest. As you said, "it can also be used as a nonsensical cash-cow."

  7. I often wonder about the copyright law and photos. Most of my old photos are I hope that makes the difference. About ten years ago I was doing scrapbooks for my girls and took some of their old school photos to Walmart..they refused to scan them..shortly after that I bought my own scanner:)

  8. I suspect Walmart's lawyers have issued a directive that protects from even the most outlandish claims. Since one can sue over anything, and even winning against a trivial suit costs money, often it's best to simply avoid it in the first place. But intellectual property law is a mine field and corporations constantly seek to push it further in their favor. Now if I could only copyright sex and start receiving royalties .....

  9. Logic like that is bound to take ya far man! Heeeheehhee!!!

    Pictures are a tricky copyright issue for sure. I do need to start puttin' a watermark on mine. I never thought mine were good enough to 'swipe' but I've had some pretty heavy lifts, so to speak.

    God bless ya and enjoy this wonderful day! :o)

  10. I would call that a very sound piece of reasoning and I look forward to hearing Her Majesty's response.

  11. Alan, why do you suppose I ask your permission to copy your pictures? Even though they are used to grace my walls to respect "copyright"!!! Ah seriously, I always enjoy looking at your pictures and wish sometimes I had thought of that particular setting, etc.

  12. I would think it sounds like a fair dea...but you know there are some folks who wouldn't want their kitchen viewed, unless it was in perfect order! ha ha! As for copyright laws, they can be so odd can't they? I think for sure when one is simply sharing for the good of all to view, and not out selling them, what's the problem of that! Either way, this is a very cool photo and I'm glad you own it, or showed it anyway! :)

  13. I would charge her a toll fee,
    if I were you...
    As far as copyright goes,
    I claim "fair use",
    even if I seem to have a relaxed view of what constitutes "fair use".

  14. Vexed subject Alan. It could worry me if I let it. I like your 'take' on it!

  15. Yes, Alan, that sure is fair trade! Enjoyed. Thank you Alan.

  16. I do take liberty with copyrighting, my bad, but do try to keep it within the right spirit. I give credit and links back to the source, and hopefully am giving a no-longer-in-print book a boost, or a newer one more sales. I do not take photos that somebody took and put on their blog (newer photos), and wouldn't like it if somebody did that to my work. I write my name on my pictures now; but a few years back Bing and Google didn't even link back to blogs when they put our work out there for all to grab.

    On the sepia info, I figure that many folks who have written old stuff did so because they wanted people to read it and remember, and I never claim it as my own. I hope they are thinking, oh, good, now that there is this internet thing, I'm happy that people are still reading my work and seeing my picture. I HOPE that is how they feel about it anyway!


Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...