The Great Save
July 27, 2019 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Print impressions of Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave’, each one subtly different in colour and tone, can be found in collections around the world – which lets us compare museums and galleries' digitisation and copyright policies. Spoiler: The Library of Congress comes out top!
posted by adrianhon (13 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I've always been impressed with the Library of Congress' system. It's unfortunate that for some of these other museums the attitude seems to be, you don't mess with the zôhan
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:10 AM on July 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

I wonder if it matters that the Library of Congress is a library, and most of the others are museums. Are there different assumptions or expectations at different kinds of institutions?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:23 AM on July 27, 2019

The courts have ruled that an archival 1:1 photo of an image (regardless of the effort required to create it apparently) does not enjoy copyright protection.

So some years ago a friend* leveraged this knowledge to programmatically grab every interesting shin-hanga (E.g. Hosui, Yoshida) from several public sources with unimaginative document URL schemes.

They* hoped to use these images in derivative works but haven’t yet got around to it.

posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 10:47 AM on July 27, 2019 [11 favorites]

The Kickstarter about recreating The Great Wave using traditional methods.

Beginning of a 16-part series about making the print A good bit of detail plus wandering around Hokkaido.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 11:03 AM on July 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by zamboni at 11:32 AM on July 27, 2019

The courts have ruled that an archival 1:1 photo of an image (regardless of the effort required to create it apparently) does not enjoy copyright protection.
Is that true everywhere or just in the US? I looked into this because I was doing a little craft project (that I considered selling on Etsy) that involved grabbing images from museums' webpages, and I could swear that images of out-of-copyright artworks were considered copyrighted in the UK but not in the US.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:16 PM on July 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not every country has the concept of public domain. The UK doesn't, so no wonder its rights policies seem quaint to the US-centric author.

The concept of expiring copyright is not universal, and its application can be colonial. For instance, some of the geometric patterns I work with are centuries old. You might assume that they're in the public domain now. There are families of artisans in Marrakesh and Fez who make their living from their signature patterns and have done so for generations. They have no trademark, they're just known to be associated with certain areas/families/workshops. Their compatriots know not to rip off designs, but that doesn't stop western designers from doing so. Why should local artisans have to go through the expense of trademarking when its only outsiders that don't respect it?
posted by scruss at 12:22 PM on July 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

It's amusing that the MoFA in Boston hasn't gotten the memo about that court decision and still is claiming copyright over something they (presumably) had no creative input on.
posted by joeyh at 12:42 PM on July 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Earlier this week I put together a figure for a manuscript demonstrating the wide variety of taxa that same-sex sexual behaviors had been documented in. Think something like this. Because I intended to publish the figure and also my coauthors and I are without exception broke, I was pretty insistent that the photographs we were using needed to be public domain or otherwise covered by Creative Commons.

Mammals weren't too hard to figure out, and birds, but--goodness, do you have any idea how hard it is to find images of bulb mites or rat hookworms or Humboldt squid that are clearly marked as available for noncommercial use? It's important to me to make sure that the images I take give credit to the photographers who took them and are freely given, and I spent a lot of time putting together spreadsheets with that information to be submitted as supplemental material. That's just basic courtesy.

But I'm operating on the Internet, and I'm trying to collect a bunch of images from a wide variety of (mostly hobbyist) sources and attribute them fairly, right? I don't really have context for most of the people who took them, and many of them don't have contact information listed by the image. So from that perspective, the Creative Commons and its various licenses (with restrictions that are clearly described) are godsends. I'm very sympathetic to the frustrations about trademarking, but I am also really glad about places that take the time to put up clearly marked creative commons notes about images (especially) so that people who are trying to do everything right can figure out how to do that ethically.
posted by sciatrix at 1:10 PM on July 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

> Not every country has the concept of public domain. The UK doesn't

posted by Leon at 2:25 PM on July 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not every country has the concept of public domain. The UK doesn't, …

Argh; missed out a bit: The UK doesn't have the same concept of public domain, with moral right and all. Out of copyright works still enter the public domain in the UK, it's just much harder to relinquish moral right to your works.
posted by scruss at 4:51 PM on July 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

It matters that LC is a library probably, and that it's a federal government operation with a proximity to lawmaking that is right there in its name, that matters substantially.
posted by wotsac at 6:06 PM on July 27, 2019

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