Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More on the LIFE photo archive hosted by Google

My blog post on Dec. 2 about the LIFE photo archive hosted by Google received several comments about the copyright notice. Are all of those photos really under copyright protection? Two people, who are in contact with those on the project, said they would try to get an answer.

Checking the site, I see that all of the images still have a copyright notice and now contain the text, "For personal non-commercial use only".

Dear Time Inc. (owner of Life), you may think that's helpful, but it isn't. You haven't told us enough about your expectations. It sounds like you might want to consider a Creative Commons license such as "Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives." If that isn't what you mean, then create a page on the Google web site (or on your own) that explains what is legal in your eyes and what is not. Is educational/classroom use legal? Use in a student's report? Can an image be used in a blog? Can an image be used in a presentation that talks about digitizing photo archives? And if you want people to pay for an image, can someone pay for a digital copy?

Unbeknownst to you (Time Inc.), your users are web 2.0 savvy. They are not necessarily interested in printed framed copies of photos, but in digital versions that they can use in a variety of ways. Many don't want to use the images illegally, so they expect to understand how to gain legal access to the images. And if older images are marked as not being in the public domain, they need to know why.

Unfortunately for you, if you don't tell your users what you expectations really are and give them the correct tools, you're going to be disappointed with the results.

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Peter Hirtle said...

Jill, I will be really interested to hear what you learn about the status of the photographs. In addition to the copyright issue, I am also interested in the publicity rights question. I cannot believe that Life dutifully got model releases from everyone depicted in the photographs. While they might have been able to use some of the images for news purposes, using photographs of Marilyn Monroe, Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, etc. for purely commercial purposes would appear to be a clear violation of their publicity rights.

As to copyright, I am not surprised that Life is sticking copyright notices on public domain images (even though some might think this a criminal violation of 17 U.S.C. 505(c)). I am more interested in the status of the in-copyright images. Does Life really have copyright transfer agreements from every photographer for every photo? This seems hard to believe... Are they assuming that under the pre-1978 work-for-hire rules that they owned the copyright in freelance photos that they commissioned? Or are they working on the assumption that the damages associated with infringing on an unpublished work are so small that they are willing to run the risk?

Most libraries as a matter of practice will not consciously infringe on copyright, even for non-commercial, educational purposes. It would be instructive if a commercial outfit in the intellectual property business, after conducting a risk-assessment, was willing to be less respectively of copyright than libraries are.

Anonymous said...

Hello Jill,

Did you find out how the LIFE photo archive legally can be used? I am trying my best to find this out. I will purchase them for professional use, but perhaps this is not possible?? very unclear!

(graphic designer)

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

No, I haven't figured out what usage Life deems as being legitimate for these photos. Very sad that Life or Google hasn't done a Terms of Use statement for this archive. Waiting to see how people use them, then reacting is a bit passive-agressive and never pretty.