HuffPo Interviews Christopher Sprigman '93 About Photos of Public Domain Artworks

Excerpted from the Huffington Post:

To gain further clarity on the use of photos of public domain artworks I interviewed Professor Christopher Sprigman, who teaches intellectual property law, antitrust law, competition policy, and comparative constitutional law at the University of Virginia Law School. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (1988) and the University of Chicago Law School (1993). His scholarship focuses on how legal rules affect innovation and the deployment of new technologies.

Starr: In a 2010 article in the New York Times you said, "If the painting is in the public domain, you can take a picture of it, you can reproduce it,..." How does that apply to photos of public domain artworks that appear online, on institutional websites, and in catalogues -- in the light of the Bridgeman-Corel court decision? The decision seems to state definitively that photos of public domain artworks that are purely copies of the artworks can't be copyrighted. Is this an accurate reading?

Sprigman: Yes. But keep in mind that there are a couple of limitations. The photos have to be flat, artless reproductions. The photos in Bridgeman vs. Corel were intended to illustrate the artwork and nothing more. Also, I'm talking about U.S. law. The laws in other countries may differ. And in my comments here, I'm giving some guidance about general U.S. legal principles, and not legal advice for any particular instance of use.

Starr: Before we continue, it would be useful to define "public domain."

Sprigman: For your purposes it's paintings or other artworks that have never been copyrighted or those for which the copyright has expired. The Mona Lisa is in the public domain because there never was a copyright on it in the first place. For a painting done in 1910, which was probably copyrighted at the time, the copyright has expired. In the U.S a copyright is good for seventy years after the death of the artist.

Read the rest of the interview here.