Are computer generated artworks protected by copyright?

Image of computer generated Rembrandt, created by J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam, 2017.

Computer generated Rembrandt, created by J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam, 2017.

The latest artwork to prompt this question is a portrait which has been created by a computer in the style of Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. The work was created after a computer spent months analysing the technical and aesthetic elements of Rembrandt’s works using machine learning.  The resulting portrait was of a male aged between 30-40, with facial hair, facing towards the right, and wearing dark clothes with a white collar. Computer algorithms and a 3-D printer then created the artwork based on the styles and recurring patterns found in previous Rembrandt portraits. The 3-D printer was even able to emulate the brush strokes and height of the paint to produce a convincing Rambrandt.

But where does this leave us in terms of copyright?  Thankfully under UK law this type of work is protected by copyright. The law states that “in the case of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work which is computer-generated, the author shall be taken to be the person by whom the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work are undertaken”, (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, Part 1, Section 9, [3]).

However, legislation in other countries do not necessarily provide the same level of copyright protection.  If you are considering producing literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works which are computer generated and you are working collaboratively with colleagues outside of the UK. Then make sure any works which are created are made in the UK to qualify for copyright protection.

To read more about this story please the original article in The Conversation.

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Creative Commons “non-commercial” licensing wins court battle

Image of Creative Commons logo

Creative Commons, commonly known as CC, has won a legal battle which disputed one of its “non-commercial” licences and could have threatened the whole CC licensing model.

Creative Commons provides free easy to use standard copyright licences which allow creators to share their work with the general public.  The licence which came into question was the CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 which allows users to copy and share material for non-commercial purposes as long as the original creator is credited.  This licence was used by an American non profit company, Great Minds, which creates high quality educational materials for schools.  Problems arose when a commercial company, FedEx, was asked by schools to duplicate materials for classroom distribution. Great Minds demanded royalty payments from FedEx, however, they refused.  Consequently Great Minds sued FedEx claiming the company was infringing copyright in their materials.

New York judge, Denis Hurley dismissed the Great Minds suit in February 2017, ruling that the CC licence “does not limit a licensee’s ability to use third parties in exercising the rights granted by” Great Minds.  Thus the licence cannot limit a company from being hired to make copies of the materials if the original purpose of the materials is for non commercial use. However, it was found that Great Minds claim was not unreasonable as no court had previously addressed whether or not a commercial copy service could be employed to reproduce materials protected by a CC licence.

To read more about this story see by D Kravets’ article at this link.

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Copyright law has changed for industrially manufactured artistic works

On the 28th July the repeal of section 52 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act came into force. Previously this meant that artistic works which were exploited as industrial designs would only be protected by copyright for 25 years from the first marketing of the product.  After this period the industrial design could be freely copied by others.  For example, if you have ever wondered why cheap copies of Mies Van Der Rohe’s iconic Barcelona chair, can be found on your local high-street, then this is the reason.  However, the repeal brings these works back into line with other artistic works which are protected by copyright for 70 years after the death of the creator.  This means that works which were previously out of copyright will be back under copyright protection. There is a six month embargo period until the end of January 2017 to allow shops and publishers to clear old stock and ensure that any new copies are made with the permission of the copyright owner.  Any copies which are privately owned should not be affected.

This exception will apply to both 2 dimensional and 3 dimensional works, such as wallpaper, fabric, furniture and jewellery where the original design has come from an artistic work that has been copied.  However, one challenge will be identifying what constitutes a  “work of artistic craftsmanship” as there is no statutory definition.  Originally this term was added to the law in 1911 to reflect the change in what was considered to be art and protect works from William Morris’ Arts and Crafts Movement.  Ultimately if the artistic craftsmanship of a work comes into question it will be up to a judge to make the final decision in a court of law. DACS has provided guidance on this area, which is:

  1. A conscious intention to produce a work of art
  2. A real artistic or aesthetic quality
  3. A sufficient degree of craftsmanship and artistry (existing simultaneously)

For further information please refer to this guide issued by the UK’s Intellectual Property Office at this link.

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Creative Commons Image wins Italian Court Case

The contested photo of Federico Rampini at the Auditorium Santa Chiara in Trento for the Festival of Economics. CC-BY-SA 4.0

The contested photo of Niccolo Rampini at the Auditorium Santa Chiara in Trento for the Festival of Economics. By N. Caranti, 2015 CC-BY-SA 4.0

A Creative Commons photo licensed under a CC-by-SA-4.0 licence by professional photographer Federico Caranti has won a court case against the photograph’s misuse (shown left) . Last year the Festival delle Resistenze in Trentino-Alto Adige used Caranti’s photo but failed to attribute the image or release it under the same CC licence as stipulated by the licence conditions. More information about this case can be read here.


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Madonna Wins Vogue Copyright Court Case


Madonna, reproduced under CC Licence (CC BY-SA 2.0), taken by Jason H Smith, 2010.

The US Court of Appeal has ruled that Madonna’s Vogue did not infringe US copyright law by using a sample of a horn from another track which lasted for less than a second.  The sound of the horn was allegedly lifted from the Salsoul Orchestra track ‘Love Break’ and is difficult to identify without careful attention.

More information on this story can be found on the BBC’s webpage.

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Monkey Business

Money with a Camera taken by Ross Websdale, 2009 (CC BY NC-SA 2.0)

‘Money with a Camera’ taken by Ross Websdale, 2009 (CC BY NC-SA 2.0)

A photograph of a monkey or monkey selfie is at the centre of an international row over copyright authorship and ownership. British wildlife photographer David Slater, visited the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in 2011 to photograph crested macaque monkeys on a reserve.  After spending time setting up his equipment and gaining the monkey’s trust he managed to get the monkey to press a cable release switch which took a photograph of the monkey.

Wikipedia has since used the monkey selfie on their website claiming that it is a public domain image, however, David Slater says that the copyright should be his.  In the UK, the law states that copyright only exists in material created by humans and as the monkey pressed the camera’s shutter, the image cannot be protected by copyright.  This is a very interesting case as Slater obviously invested considerable time and effort in order to obtain this image.  Furthermore PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have filed a lawsuit insiting that all proceeds from the sale of the monkey selfie should benefit the monkey,  who they have identified as being six -year-old Naruto.

To read more about this case click here.

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Pharrell’s not so Happy!

On 11th March 2015, it was announced that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke lost the copyright case against them with the jury deciding that their hit, Blurred Lines copied music from Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit Got to Give It Up. The courts awarded damages to the Gaye family of around $7.4M.

Find out more about the case and listen to the songs yourself at this link:

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What’s in a name? Easter egg copyright fiasco


Mupfel80, 2013. Issued under a CC0 Declaration (

Fearing a celebrity lawsuit for infringement of copyright, confectioner Thorntons has refused to sell a personalized chocolate Easter egg inscribed with a boy’s name ‘Rooney’.

Jo-Anne Scholes (mother of Rooney Scholes, supporter of Manchester United F.C. and owner of cats ‘Cantona’ and ‘Berbatov’) described the refusal as “barmy”, “madness”, “beyond belief” and “a total farce”.

The law of copyright in Britain does not protect people’s names – it protects works.  If you are planning to have something written on an Easter egg, but are unsure whether you are likely to infringe copyright, there is more information available here:

For full details of the Rooney Easter egg, see:

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Shiver me timbers : The Pirate Bay website weighs anchor (again)

Pirate Ship and the Setting Sun

© Paul Hamilton, used here under a Creative Commons licence (

Infamous file-sharing website The Pirate Bay has fled from the Caribbean to the Atlantic in an attempt to evade the authorities.  Having been chased from one internet domain to another, the file-sharing site had been operating from, based in the Caribbean island of St. Martin, a colony of the Netherlands.  Pressure from a Dutch lobby group against copyright infringement has forced The Pirate Bay to move to a new domain,, based in the island of Ascension.  But the British authorities there are unlikely to allow Ascension to become a nest of pirates, and it has been suggested that the website’s next destination may be Peru.

You can read more about this story in The Independent.

Guidance is available for using video files or audio files without infringing copyright.

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