Bridgeman Loses Copyright Claim

Posted on 2/9/1999 by Charles Swan | Printable Version | Comments (0)



February 9, 1999

by: Charles Swan

The Bridgeman Art Library's claims against Corel Corporation have been

dismissed by a New York court.

Photographic reproductions of paintings were held not to be protected by

copyright in their own right. They lack originality, a key ingredient for

protection of any artistic work.

Corel marketed a set of CD-ROMs, "Masters CD-ROM", containing 700

digital reproductions of well known paintings by old masters (all the

paintings were public domain). Corel claimed it obtained the images from

35mm slides owned by a California company, Off the Wall Inc. Bridgeman

claimed that Corel had infringed its rights in around 120 of its images.

Bridgeman had no direct evidence that its transparencies had been

copied, but claimed that since the owners of the paintings all strictly

limit access to the works, and since Bridgeman's transparencies were the

only authorised transparencies in some cases, the images in Corel's

collection must have been copies of Bridgeman's.

Bridgeman argued that its transparencies were original for three


    1. The change of medium from painting to photograph.

    2. Because colour correction bars were attached to its images.

    3. Because photography requires artistic talent and originality.

The judge disagreed on all counts. On the key issue of creativity, the

judge decided that although almost all photography is sufficiently original

to be protected by copyright, a photograph which is merely a copy of someone

else's work is not an original work in its own right.

The judge drew an analogy with photocopying: "Surely designing the

technology to produce exact reproductions of documents required much

engineering talent, but that does not make the reproductions copyrightable

... skill, labour or judgment merely in the process of copying cannot confer


The decision was based on UK copyright law but the judge said that he would

have reached the same result under US law.

This decision is not binding on UK courts as US decisions are only

"persuasive". Barring a successful appeal, however, it is likely to be

accepted by the industry as a clear statement that museums and photo

libraries cannot use copyright law to protect photographs of two dimensional

artistic works. If a photograph of a painting is not protected it must also

be doubtful whether there can be any separate copyright in a digital scan.

Charles Swan can be reached at The Simkins Partnership, a media law firm in

London Tel: 0171 631 1050, Fax: 0171 436 2744,

For more information vist their web site at

Copyright © 1999 Charles Swan. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz


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