Unless I‘ve scanned in your original tranny and used it as is there will always be a subjective element in a court's decision. Is the new work original enough for me to claim copyright or is it still, inarguably, yours? Lawyers pay for Porsches answering questions such as these.
Secondly, and most importantly, if you choose not to defend your copyright when you see your image doing the rounds on the Net or on fly posters, but then suddenly decide you will because someone with money has infringed it, the courts will find against you on the grounds that as you didn‘t defend it on the occasion of the other infringements your work is in the public domain.
It doesn't stop. The photo library, Tony Stone Pictures, is currently suing Canadian software house Corel for $400,000 because a competition winning image by Stephen Arscott is allegedly a copy done in Corel Draw of an Indian photographed by Nick Vedros. it may seem trivial. but it's too high profile for a photo library to ignore.
Tony Stone's Catherine Porter says: "These cases are usually brought to our attention by a client who knows our image library. We make contact and offer the offender the chance to accept a retroactive invoice. It happens all the time. We rarely go to court though we will if we must."
Remember, we're mostly talking no-argument offences here. In Tony Stone Pictures v Corel both sides believe they have a good case. Win or lose, though, picture libraries have to defend copyright or go out of business.
In contrast, Corel is making lots of money releasing low cost themed PhotoCDs packed with 100 or more royalty free professional quality images at the rate of one a week or so. We have 200 such discs in the Computer Arts office — 20.000 pre-digitised quality images that cost around £500 that we can use for anything, any number of times.
Corel isn't the only company doing this. How long can photo libraries charge £50 for a one off use of an image in the face of that kind of instantly accessible competition? Digital technology makes duplication cheap. It’s killing the rarity value of images just as it killed the value of fonts.
The last is interesting. How long can a font foundry continue to charge £100 for a font when you can buy 100 fonts for a £1? If Neville Brody designs a font and days later a near copy is added to the list of those available for pennies then no one is going to get rich on the royalties. Vet font foundries don't sue because they don't believe they can win.
A few more points to be aware of: if you used elements in your original work that were out of copyright, but which make it instantly recognisable, and someone else then uses those parts, you have no claim.
If you incorporate images that are in copyright as part of a larger work you are in breach of the original author's copyright- and no doubt a criminal subscribing to an ethical system more suited to a Colombian drug baron than a creative artist to boot.
But it doesn't matter a hoot what the law says any more — twentieth century technology laughs at nineteenth century law. The copyright laws as they apply to images are now widely ignored and in practice will soon be unenforceable. They were enforced by technological limitations, not a system of ethics, and technological advances are destroying their effectiveness.
This month we're looking back at our first issue, in preparation for our milestone 200th issue of Computer Arts, featuring 200 of the best design moments since our 1995 launch, as well as exclusive video tutorials from Build and Nexus, 15 pages of industry skills and advice in the Design Manual, and cutting edge design tutorials.
Whatever you do, don't miss it - you can click here to pre-order. And keep checking the site for more treats from 1995; there's lots more to come!