Caught in a Copyright Net

This is the offending photograph that was pulled from a POD (Print on Demand) site.  I dared to include the Space Needle in my Seattle Skyline.

This is the offending photograph that was pulled from a POD (Print on Demand) site. I dared to include the Space Needle in my Seattle Skyline.

The Seattle Seahawks won the 2014 Super Bowl. Maybe that woke up some other Powers-That-Be in Seattle, because the Space Needle entity has come down on little designers who used the Space Needle in their designs on a commercial Print-on-Demand (POD) site I use. (“Super Bowl” might even be a copyrighted phrase.)  I got the dreaded emails telling me of “copyright infringement” on six products all using the above photograph.

The Space Needle is a copyrighted structure, so it can’t be featured in photographs and art, but it can be included as part of a skyline. It’s such an essential part of the skyline, it seems wrong to be so restrictive in its use. I knew that I couldn’t feature the Space Needle as the dominant structure in a photograph, so I only used it in the skyline photograph, but even that photograph wasn’t spared. The POD site where I was selling this photograph on six products (postcard, greeting cards, magnet, mug) removed many hundreds of Space Needle photos and artworks from other designers, even the images legally allowed. Many had been featured on the site for several years. The mass removal was probably because it’s just easier than examining each image to see whether it is allowed. Some designers complained that Seattle images that didn’t include the Space Needle were yanked.  Of course, I could print and market my own photographs and deal with this issue myself, but I don’t want to!

Anyway, I’m annoyed,  even if I can empathize with the POD’s situation.  Why pay legal fees?  I believe that my image is legal under copyright laws, but I’m too puny a business to push the issue.  It wasn’t as if I was making the big bucks from it, but I donate the money I make to the animal shelter where I volunteer. I need to move on, create more and hope I don’t step on any more toes.

All around us are copyrighted images.  The pitfalls are everywhere.  Want to capture the iconic Parisian view at night?  The lighted image of the Eiffel Tower is copyrighted, although apparently you can sell images of the daytime Eiffel Tower. What do you think about copyrighting building and structures images? When I worked with a newspaper photographer, he said that he could publish any image and that permission wasn’t needed, because it was news. News publishing is also profit-driven, so where do you draw the line?

I create original images, so I understand not wanting others to take them, reducing their value to me, unless their value is in spreading information.

I’ve tussled with copyright issues before, including with Mark Twain’s ghost. Check out my blog post on my spat with Mark Twain: “Intellectual Property Rights”

Guide to Trademark Law.

The Official Space Needle Website.

A discussion of the Space Needle image on a stock photo site.


Filed under Photography

15 responses to “Caught in a Copyright Net

  1. The heck kinda crazy rules are these eh? so I can’t take a photo of the eifel tower at night for my blog?


  2. Malarkey! I think the law should be simple. If they want to assert the copyright of their structure and/or design they should be required to keep it out of public view. Perhaps a big box? If they put it out for the public to see then they should lose the claim. Hmm. Decisions, decisions! 🙂

    Like you, I think the photograph you had placed on the POD service was not an infringement. They don’t own the entire skyline. The service likely reacted in a knee-jerk manner and people, like you, who thoughtfully provide tags, made their hunt easier. They didn’t stop to consider each case. They just rejected them all.

    Of course you probably agreed to that policy when you signed up and accepted their TOS. Their decision doesn’t mean your skyline usage is a violation. You are free to test those waters on your own and go head-to-head with the Space Needle Corp. to your heart’s content.

    Personally I think they’re all a bunch of needle heads.


  3. This sounds like a few lawyers with way too much time on their hands Catherine. Anytime lawyers are involved, the decision is whether to take a stand or skip the hassle altogether. I’d be PO’d as well. ~James


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  6. I, too, have recently fallen victim to my original artwork being yanked off of a POD site, on which I have sold my art for over 5 years now. When my inbox was first flooded with the “copyright infringement” emails, I consulted a lawyer (it wasn’t difficult for me to do so, as I work in a law firm). He gave me some verbiage to include in a message to the POD site, which politely requested the exact code of infringement upon which the basis was made for removing my artwork. After sending that message, I got a reply two days later stating (the name of the POD site has been replaced with ******)…

    “****** has been contacted by representatives from the Space Needle, The infringement claim notice has informed us that ****** is not currently licensed to offer merchandise of the Space Needle. Due to this infringement claim, ****** is required to remove all products bearing images and designs of Seattle’s Space Needle.”

    I have work that includes the exact same images for sale through another POD site but haven’t received any notices of copyright infringement from them. THEY, however, are based out of another country. I wonder if that will be the factor that ends up saving my Space Needle artwork from extinction…


  7. MikeW

    Catherine, maybe it’s time for all affected designers and photographers to do a mass parody of the space needle and post them. Parody is an exception to copyright infringement laws, isn’t it? Must clearly be parody though. Let the contest begin!


  8. I’m with Mike! Getting my plane ticket now.
    (Also great blues in that photograph!)


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