GIF copyrights

Subject: GIF copyrights
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Fri, 27 Sep 1996 15:16:08 -0500

Kim Keegan asked if graphics downloaded from the Web are
copyrighted and if using them without permission could lead
to trouble. The short answer: yes to both questions! Worse
yet, if the creator of the graphic formally registered
copyright, you could be liable for substantial monetary
damages if the creator catches you and chooses to sue.

The long answer: Canadian copyright law specifically states
that visual works (films and videos) and artistic works
(here, meaning drawings) are copyrighted; moreover, it
makes no distinction in terms of the medium in which the
work has been created. Sorry, one small amendment: the law
allows for specific copyrights on each "mechanical
contrivance", so (for example) the CD version of a song and
the cassette version would each be independently
copyrighted. The important point is that the medium in
which the item exists is only important in the sense of
defining a separate copyright for each medium. (Since
Canada is a signatory to all the main international
copyright treaties, the same rules should apply elsewhere.)

Downloading a graphic from the Web is no different from
photocopying one from a book and calling it your own: a
clear violation. (Un)fortunately, if you download the
graphic, change its size, recolor it, change the text, add
and delete elements, and otherwise provide significant
intellectual input to the redesign, you're probably safe...
copyright only protects a specific execution of an idea,
not the idea itself. (Of course, if the graphic serves as a
trademark for the creator, then you might be prohibited
from infringing on that trademark, irrespective of
copyright issues.) This is tricky ground, because the
extent of the required modifications will be left up to the
lawyers to decide.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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