Legalities of Selling Things Based on Historical Figures

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by dragonsdesire, Mar 13, 2013.

  1. dragonsdesire
    dragonsdesire New Member
    Hi there! I'm just wondering, what are the dangers and maybe things to avoid when creating products to sell to people? The very obvious one is of course not selling anything that was created by someone, like video game characters or things based on tv shows or movies. What about historical figures? Let's say, Abraham Lincoln or the Statue of Liberty? What about athletes?

    Are there other important things that one should consider before creating products based on someone or something in order to sell while not being hounded by legal trouble? I imagine that for most people, asking for permission is the most important one, but what if they're already dead?

    Thanks in advance :)
  2. UniverseBecoming
    UniverseBecoming Well-Known Member
    You have to ask them by conducting a seance! :laughing:

    Jokes aside, in the US public domain comes 70 years after death. See here for more detailed information about that.
  3. BillBedford
    BillBedford New Member
    IP rights belong to the creator not the person being depicted, with a few caveats.
  4. dragonsdesire
    dragonsdesire New Member
    Thanks, especially for that informative link :)
  5. UniverseBecoming
    UniverseBecoming Well-Known Member
  6. Youknowwho4eva
    Youknowwho4eva Shapeways Employee Community Team
    I told Adam Carolla that I printed his head. He hasn't emailed me back so I take that as permission granted :p.
  7. svenvanderhart
    svenvanderhart New Member
    There are no relatives left of Abraham Lincoln, so no worries at all there...

    But seriously, I think on this scale the average person sells from his/her Shapeways shop, I don't think anybody gets upset if you use their face/building/whatever. Probably even flattered. Now if you mass-market the thing, that's different.
  8. dragonsdesire
    dragonsdesire New Member
    Hmm thanks for the insights!

    I think I'll just play it safe and only put my own creations up for sale publicly.

    I just remembered we have a way of making certain items for sale private and they can only be accessed by using specific links. Maybe "special requests" from people involving famous things can go there :laughing: :laughing:
  9. dcyale
    dcyale Well-Known Member
    A living person has certain rights in their own image, i.e. there may be problems with selling a model of a hollywood actor or other entertainer. Also, oganizations like the WWF have on staff lawyers to protect their "brands," which means the various wrestling personalities.

    This runs up against fair use standards, and it all gets complaicated fast.

    This is an area of the law that is a specialty- and general rules can be swallowed by the exceptions. So general answers may not apply to the specific situation you are looking at.

    It is not an question that can be answered in a forum like this. It is another way that emerging technology is going to challenge legal principals that were not designed with it in mind.

  10. BillBedford
    BillBedford New Member

    You should really tell us what country you are talking about when you start to describe local laws, as opposed to the (almost) universal laws on copyright.

    WWF? aren't they the cuddly panda people?
  11. dcyale
    dcyale Well-Known Member
    That there can be differences between various countries, and international treaties, just goes further to prove that you can't get an answer to the question on a forum like this. I am not discussing the details concerning the requirements of various laws, just pointing out that legal requirements may exist. It gets even more complicated because with shapeways your customers could be from anywhere. You are marketing internationally. It may be very difficult to even determine which laws govern a particular transaction, and your next sale could be to a different country and have different legal requirements.

    You are right about the panda people, They got the initials WWF and the wrestlers had to take WWE, even though they called it the World Wrestling Foundation in the past. Another legal battle concerning copyrights and trademarks.
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2013
  12. SpaceGhost2K
    SpaceGhost2K New Member
    I've done a little research into this.

    Different countries have different rules. If you are convinced your product will never leave this country (not sure how you could do that), you could use the 70 year rule. But the UK rule is 100 years. If your product ended up in the UK, you could find yourself under copyright violation.

    My example: I'm writing a story that uses Bram Stoker and Dracula as characters. Dracula is famously out of copyright because Stoker accidentally put it into the public domain (his family continues to fight it). However, Universal made a movie in 1931, and they own the copyright to the movie, or, their artistic interpretation of Dracula. As long as my Dracula only references the original literature, I'm fine, but if I reference something in the movie that is not in the novel, I could be in trouble.

    Likewise, actors and celebrities make a living off their likeness, so even if they can't copyright their likeness, only they are allowed to profit from it or approve its use (like to endorse a product or a charity). However, public officials are exempt from this as I understand it. (There is a difference between public officials and public figures, too). You can make Obama stuff till you're blue in the face. Or Abe Lincoln stuff. In fact, you could conceivably create a stylized image of Abe Lincoln, and anyone who used your stylized version would be in violation of copyright. But you can't copyright a realistic image of Lincoln. The artist who created the tiny Keanu Reeves and Ryan Gosling would probably not get sued, but they might get a cease-and-desist letter, asking them not to sell them anymore. Silence is NOT consent.

    Another example: There is a Van Gogh painting of a branch with blossoms on it. That is obviously public domain. However, one person took the image, took the one-inch border around the picture, and duplicated it twice, effectively making the image 4 inches larger in both directions with an "artistically modified" image being created in the process. If you happen to use their version accidentally instead of the original, they can sue you. (Look in the upper left hand corner, then you'll know what to look for in the rest of the picture.) U/XETd9dnZLKg/s1600/blossoming-almond-tree-by-vincent-van-go gh.jpg

    The Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower are in the public domain, and images of them are copyright free. However, the city of Paris got tired of not making any money from the thousands of photos taken of the tower every year. They hired an artist to create a light display that hangs on the tower. Photos of the tower by day are fine. Photos of the tower at night are actually photos of the lights on the tower, and that is copyrighted. Bastards.

    Back to Dracula and Stoker. Drac is public domain everywhere, and Stoker's likeness was public domain once it was 70 years old - but, because I didn't want to get in trouble in the UK, I had to wait until the 100th anniversary of his death, which was April 20, 2012. Just to be safe. I also had to leave out another author and his character from my story because, while the story is public domain here in the US, it's still under copyright for a few years in the UK. I could wait it out or do without the author/character, so I dropped him.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2013
  13. Innovo
    Innovo New Member
  14. BillBedford
    BillBedford New Member
    There were so many errors it this posting it is difficult to know where to start.

    Copyright in the UK lasts for 70 years after the death of the author. Since Bram Stoker died in 1912 all his literary works came out of copyright at the end of 1982

    Copyright of any image of a person rests with the photographer or painter who produced the image. This will last until 70 years after the death of that person. If the image was produced by a corporation, e.g. a press photograph taken by someone who is employed by a newspaper, then copyright lasts for 70 years after the photograph was first published. That is, an unattributed photo in a newspaper dated before the end of 1942, will be out of copyright.

    The UK legislation is all on line here so you really have no excuse for getting it wrong.
  15. stonysmith
    stonysmith Well-Known Member Moderator
    Interesting note from the British law:
    I wonder what they mean by "computer generated". Obviously the physical 3d prints are "computer generated". Are the STL models also "computer generated"? Does just being digital mean that I lose 20 years of copyright?
  16. Innovo
    Innovo New Member

    That's an interesting point since, if you think about it, everything today is ''computer generated''. Books for example are ''computer generated'' in word processors. How about images taken by digital photography?

  17. svenvanderhart
    svenvanderhart New Member
    Clearly a law made by someone with no artistic background, as a computer is just as much a tool as a brush. It's not automised computer generated. There is still the same human being behind it. But here I think we will all agree with that.
  18. roofoo
    roofoo Well-Known Member
    This whole thing makes me wonder, how is stuff like Sad Keanu legal when he's still alive? That's like one of the most popular models on here, you know the seller is making a ton of cash off of Keanu Reeves' likeness.
  19. BillBedford
    BillBedford New Member

    Copyright rests with the makers, and unless they fall foul of a patent or trademark they are free to distribute their work as they see fit.
  20. roofoo
    roofoo Well-Known Member
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2013