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A Difficult Question of Copyright

June 5, 2013  |  Elsewhere Legal Rights


I, like many photographers, routinely use Google’s Image Search in order to find people that have stolen my photos in order to issue DMCA takedown notices.  Recently, I came across a weird situation.

Several years ago, I took this photo depicting some “found” artwork at the site of the then-soon-to-be-demolished Good-Latimer tunnel in Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood:

Demon Face

I photoblogged it in October of 2007 (and note that I don’t sell prints of it) and kind of forgot about it (that was almost six years and ~2,000 photos ago!).

So, imagine my surprise when Google Image Search returned a hit that showed some charlatan had taken my image, cleaned it up and made a (admittedly cool-looking) t-shirt from it:

ripoff

And here’s an imperfect overlay of both.  The oblique angle that I took the photo at is apparent in the t-shirt…the other variations are obviously from cleaning up the photo a bit and vectorizing it.

overlay

Normally, I would’ve fired off a DMCA notice to Redbubble and had the t-shirt removed, but in this case, my photo is of another’s artwork, so it’s a grey-area.  The original work doesn’t exist anymore, having been demolished in late 2007 along with the rest of the graffiti-covered Good-Latimer Tunnel and determining the original artist would be nigh-impossible. And, since I don’t own the copyright to the original work, going after this image thief would be a pointless endeavour.  So, instead it looks like I get to sit back and watch someone else make money off a derivative of my work that was originally a derivative work to begin with.

And it makes me damn angry.

And if I make my own t-shirt of this design, what’re my rights?

 



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