Tag Archives: Intellectual Property Law

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