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Decoupage and copyright issues

Posted: Tue Feb 21, 2017 3:47 pm
by scottishdecoupage
Hi, I'm considering using clipped comic strip panels in a collage to decorate a number of items from small boxes to larger bits of furniture. I'm thinking of using clipped pieces from comic strip annuals. I have a collection dating from 1959 to 1991 and quite mixed - Roy of the Rovers, Mandy, Judy, Pink, The Boys Handbook and so on, plus some encylopedias from 1965. Many are no longer in publication. I'm also looking at using some vintage Broons and Oor Wullie annuals from 1985 and earlier.

I would be using single panes not whole pages or story strips, embellished with 'reactive figures' cut from the panes (people looking horrified or shocked or laughing) to add depth and a bit of new narrative to the collage. Will I be infringing copyright? I spoke to the proprietor of a local craft shop who said a friend of theirs using comic strips to upcycle bits of furniture with comic strips had Trading Standards come down on her like a ton of bricks. So, I've had quick online search and it appears to be quite a grey area with lots of info about music and images online but not much about recycling images from vintage publications. Plus a whole lot of folk on Etsy and NOTHS doing a similar thing.

Finally, I would be using the actual strips not copying them in any way and would be giving provenance as to the publications/year of publication that the images came from.

I'd appreciate any help!



Posted: Tue Feb 21, 2017 10:57 pm
by AndyJ
Hi JD,

Up until fairly recently I would have said that you would be fairly safe doing this because as you mention you're not actually copying anything, merely re-using it. This then should be covered by the doctrine of exhaustion of rights, which says that once you have legally acquired a copyright work the copyright owner's rights in the article are exhausted or extinguished, and you are free to re-sell, lend or destroy your property.

However this all changed two years ago with a decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union, known as Allposters in which the court modified this doctrine by saying that once a work (in this case, an image) is detached from its underlying medium such as paper or canvas, re-applying the detached image to a new substrate amounts to creating a new work and this requires the permission of the original copyright owner. You can read more about the specifics of that case by following the link above.

Now although you are not detaching the image from its substrate as occurred in the Allposters case, you are proposing to re-work it in a way which effectively creates a new work and so I suspect that the publishers of the original comics might object that you would be profiting from their work by re-purposing it, much as the claimants, Stichting Pictoright, successfully argued in the Allposters case. Your best bet may be to seek permission to do this from the current copyright owners, who are most likely the successors to the original publishers of these comics, rather than the actual artists who drew the strips.

Posted: Wed Feb 22, 2017 11:36 am
by scottishdecoupage
Hi AndyJ

Thanks for that - very useful. I think I'm going to try and approach the copyright holders and see how I get on.

Fingers crossed!