Collaborative Photography

This image is from the Swiss/French artist Corinne Vionnet, who found dozens of tourist snapshots of the same object online and edited them together to form a single image. A gallery of her work — “Photo Opportunities” — is online here.

Assume for present purposes that US copyright law were applied to this image and to its source images. Assume that Corinne Vionnet did not obtain express permission from the owners of copyrights (if any) in each of the underlying images. Has she infringed any of those copyrights? Does Corinne Vionnet own a copyright in her work?

Discuss.

Now assume that the national laws of each relevant country apply to Corinne Vionnet and to each source image.

Pour yourself a drink, then discuss.

[Corinne Vionnet’s work spotted at Kottke]

3 thoughts on “Collaborative Photography

  1. Interesting. On infringement, under Blanche v. Koons (if the works are like the one above) I’d say fair use. On ownership of a DW–I guess 103(a) doesn’t bar it, since it’s not unlawful. I’m less sure about 103(b). I think it would be copyrightable, although it’s a bit weird that the “distinguishable variation” from each work is the result of the addition of the other works. But if a court could be convinced to take the gestalt view I think it would qualify.

    I will not discuss international law without a drink.

  2. Just for the sake of argument, I would say it would fail the substantial similarity test for 106(1) — and fail 106(2) for lack of incorporation of the originals in the derivative. So we don’t get to fair use — there’s just no infringement.

    Like Bruce, I’ll demur on the international law issues.

  3. Have to agree with the “no infringement” analysis. If you ever get to a fair use analysis, Vionnet has a great transformative use argument. If her work is really a palimpsest of dozens of different photos of the same object, what she’s created here is sort of an alternative reality idea of the Eiffel Tower, which mixes different seasons, times, weather, tourists, angles, views, solar reflections, etcetera, to give what some might call the eternal essence of the tower. The once and future Eiffel Tower, which doesn’t exist in any photo she borrowed from and represents a picture that can’t be taken with a camera. Interesting stuff.

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