It can be tempting to want to reproduce or photograph a work of art… Especially if you are passionate about art. However, as an enthusiast, you certainly have a great respect for artists. That’s why you know that it is not always possible to reproduce a work of art in complete freedom. In this article we offer you some clarifications about the law and photography of artworks.
The point on the copyright
You have certainly heard of copyright. Indeed, in France, an author of a work of the mind “enjoys on this work, by the sole fact of its creation, an exclusive and opposable incorporeal property right to all”, according to the Code of the intellectual property.
This implies that it is necessary to obtain a written authorization of the artist in order to exploit his work, and this, whatever the process used (and thus in particular the photography).
However, it is important to know that in France, this notion runs for the duration of the artist’s economic rights. At his death, this right is transmitted to his heirs for the seventy years that follow. His work then falls into the public domain, but the artist has a moral right “perpetual, inalienable and imprescriptible”, which obliges to quote his name in any exploitation of his work.
Rules for images of public domain works in museums
For works in museums, it is often mentioned that there is a prohibition on any commercial use of an image of a painting, even if the copyright is in the public domain. One can thus note that the restrictions are still numerous to this day… It still persists many legal uncertainties on the subject in spite of certain jurisprudences, like the one considering that the photographs of work of art are not “original” acts of creation. However, we can summarize what is nowadays in practice as follows: images of works in the public domain are freely available for private or educational use, while a fee is charged for commercial use.
The situation is quite similar in museums abroad, although some progress has been made with a policy of free and open access for images of public domain works.