Can You Infringe On Da Vinci? Judge Seems To Think So
from the the public domain is dead dept
JJ sends over this ridiculous story of a federal court issuing an injunction to stop the display of a photo of a da Vinci painting on a website, because it might be copyright infringement. As you may recall, Leonardo da Vinci died in 1519. One would think that any work he created would now be in the public domain. In this case, we’re talking about a painting called Salvator Mundi, which only recently was “authenticated” as being done by da Vinci (though, I’m still really skeptical concerning the whole art “authentication” business). Apparently very few people have actually seen this “newly discovered” da Vinci. The small company that was set up to own the painting and any money that comes from it, Salvator Mundi LLC (SMLLC), hired a photographer to create photographs of the image, but then wanted to massively control the promotion of the painting.
SMLLC is claiming copyright on the photograph of the painting, arguing that while it may not hold the copyright on the painting itself, it can still hold the copyright on the photograph. Of course, that’s only true if significant artistic decisions were made in making the photograph… and then the copyright would only cover those pieces. Either way, someone got ahold of the photo and posted it to her own website. SMLLC claimed that this was infringing. The woman, Laura Sotka, tried to explain US copyright law the lawyers, who responded by suing.
The case is now ongoing… and the court’s first big move is to issue a preliminary injunction, blocking the dissemination of the copyrighted photographs. Of course, that seems a bit extreme, especially if she’s later found to be doing everything legally. Of course, it’s not entirely clear what SMLLC thinks it’s doing here either. Hiding the painting away doesn’t contribute to culture and it certainly doesn’t help make people any more interested in checking it out. And without more details it’s difficult to say if SMLLC really has a legitimate copyright claim, but I find it unlikely. It is worth pointing out that under Bridgeman v. Corel, a photograph of a public domain image can not be protected by copyright. So unless there’s something amazingly creative that the photographer did, SMLLC probably does not have a legitimate claim here. What’s unfortunate is that the courts have been dragging such a silly case on for so long — and, in the meantime, the woman being sued still has to live with such a bogus claim hanging over her head.