![if gte IE 9]><![endif]><![if gte IE 9]><![endif]><![if gte IE 9]><![endif]>
Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
Although the comparison is not perfect, the division between protected and unprotected elements of a photograph could be likened to the separation drawn by copyright law between protected expression and unprotected ideas. The key theoretical foundation of copyright law is that ideas cannot be copyrighted. Where the photographer is uninvolved in creating his subject, that subject matter -- whether a person, a building, a landscape or something else -- is equivalent to an idea that the law insists be freely available to everyone. Copyright assures authors the right to their original expression, but encourages others to build freely upon the ideas and information conveyed by a work. An artist can claim to own only an original manner of expressing ideas, not the ideas themselves. The choices made by the photographer to generate a particular image depicting that subject matter, however, ordinarily transform "the idea" of the subject into a protectible expressive work. Almost any photograph may claim the necessary originality to support a copyright merely by virtue of the photographers' personal choice of subject matter, angle of photograph, lighting, and determination of the precise time when the photograph is to be taken.
Plaintiff photographer snapped a photograph of a blond girl in a pink coat riding piggyback on her father's shoulders as they emerged from a church. After the father abducted his daughter, the image was widely distributed in the media. The production company produced a movie based on the father's identity deception and depicted the photograph using an image that was similar in pose and composition to the original. The photographer alleged that defendants' use of his photograph without permission violated federal copyright law. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants. The photographer appealed.
Under the circumstances, did the defendants’ use of plaintiff’s photograph, without the latter’s permission, violate the federal copyright law?
The appellate court determined that no jury could properly conclude that the production company's adaptation of the photograph infringed the photographer's copyright in his work because he had no role in creating the central element of the daughter riding piggyback on her father's shoulders. Moreover, subsequent events did not transform unoriginal elements of the visual work into protectible subject matter, and almost none of the protectible aspects of the photograph were replicated in the image. The court further held that the photograph and the image were notably different in lighting and coloring, giving them aesthetically dissimilar impacts.