Obscure Copyright Questions

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Old 06 June 2013   #1
Obscure Copyright Questions

So I've been thinking about some of the more obscure ways that the VFX industry re-uses footage, data and information in ways that are potentially copyright problems. I thought I'd bring some of these questions up to see what other people think.

Before I do that though I'll preface the questions by saying that I don't think these problems come up much in actual production. It's pretty easy to deal with the concepts I'm asking about in the work place and, most of the time, I doubt anyone cares much. I'm mostly interested in this intellectually.


1. Dirt Maps, Textures and Degrees of Separation
If you're extracting and manipulating something extensively to use as a dirt map, either in comp or as a pass for a shader, how cautious/respectful are you of the original copyright owners rights? Is there a number of levels of separation from the final image that makes using something ok, for example using someone elses picture of concrete as a bump is ok but not as the diffuse?


2. Amount of Manipulation
Do you think there's a certain amount of manipulation you can perform to an original item that makes it alright to use that item? Does it make a difference if the original image could be extracted from your final work somehow (i.e. culpability) or not?


3. Reference
If you're making a photo-realistic asset based on reference what are the factors you consider with regards to copyright? Some examples for you to consider: you're modelling a major vehicle manufacturers car, a flower from a photograph taken by a professional naturalist photographer, the layout of a room from a photograph taken from an interior design boutique magazine, you're matching the timing of an edit from a feature film.


4. Destination Media and/or Client
Do you apply different rules for your considerations depending on the final output media? How do these considerations change for internal work vs. pitched work vs. broadcast vs. film vs. web?


5. Even More Obscure Uses?
Are there other weird conundrums of copyright you've been forced to considered when creating your work? For example you might have tracked the camera shake of a piece of news footage and applied it to 3D camera, or used the vector file of a major company logo as an alpha texture in zBrush.


I'm kind of interested in all these uses. We try to keep our hands very clean where I work for anything external but, being in China, I see all sorts of different habits at various shops from the outrageous (pirated software, steal every idea, every assets and every preset) to the extremely cautious (no net access, everything's legal, make it all by hand).

My feeling is that most people fit in somewhere in the middle of these behaviors. On a good day I think we're all pretty respectful, on a bad day I think we're all only as respectful as we need to be to avoid being accountable.

Thoughts?
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Old 06 June 2013   #2
You mean like how parts of "The Island" (Warner Bros.) appeared in "Transformers: Dark Of the Moon" (Paramount).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7kcqB3thJM

I'm thinking in this case... the dotted line is Digital Domain and Michael Bay - both of those parties worked on both of those pictures.

I think TRADEMARK is covered by WB and Paramount.. and that's the one they protect (but only if a film is a series like in Transformers). But while they own the "finished footage" of their respective films.. the intermediates are in the artistic custody of the VFX house, right?

Totally not certain if this situation required DD to write to WB asking if it was okay (they probably did)... but seeing as Michael Bay is the common link between them, WB would probably give the OK.

Because as we all know.. all of them treat each other as "Friend-nemies" and you never know when you might want Michael Bay to do your next film. So pissing him off is not a good idea.

Also... if no one files a complaint then there's no violation.
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Old 06 June 2013   #3
I think even a copyright lawyer wouldn't be able to give you a definitive answer to most of these questions. Copyright law definitely has some grey areas in it. In particular, you're dealing with the ambiguity between transformative re-use (which is allowed) vs. derivative re-use, which is not. Recreating a photo exactly in 3d would almost certainly be considered derivative, while using motion tracked camera shake would almost certainly be considered transformative, but there is certainly a lot of ambiguity in the middle.
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Old 06 June 2013   #4
Originally Posted by Meloncov: I think even a copyright lawyer wouldn't be able to give you a definitive answer to most of these questions. Copyright law definitely has some grey areas in it. In particular, you're dealing with the ambiguity between transformative re-use (which is allowed) vs. derivative re-use, which is not. Recreating a photo exactly in 3d would almost certainly be considered derivative, while using motion tracked camera shake would almost certainly be considered transformative, but there is certainly a lot of ambiguity in the middle.


The difference between transformative vs. derivative re-use is interesting. My understanding of the transformative term in a legal sense was that it defined if derivative use was allowed? i.e. if you derive your work from something else but it is transformative in that it adds value to the original and provides new insight then it's ok. Parody is a good example of transformative but derivative art. Am I missing something here?

Either way, surely the legal quagmire of copyright law is difficult for lay people to understand. I guess part of why I was asking these questions is to see how others make judgement calls themselves on what's ok and what is not. I guess in this way the trans/deriv idea is very useful

@CGIPadawan
Actually that's not really a good example of what I mean. I think instances like that are pretty much handled by contract which would define how any assets created during a show may or may not be used in the future. And indeed who owns which assets to begin with.
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Old 06 June 2013   #5
Yea I been wondering the legal gray areas in all sorts of graphic design. Talk about being in a quagmire. I don't think a texture of a piece of dirt would be that much cause for concern but then again that photographer might become famous and that could change. Also most people have no idea about the textures used in 3D but still all you need is one person to spill the beans and it could be trouble.

Look at the Shepard Fairey print of Obama. It became iconic and I don't think he made money off of it but it became extremely popular and famous and he was hit with a lawsuit from the AP because he based it off of one of their photographer's portrait of Obama.
 
Old 06 June 2013   #6
A lot of this is all deep in the grey area, and theres far more than 50 shades.

From a UK perspective:

1) Using an image as a bump map vs diffuse. A lot of it is down to how clear and recognisible the original is. By is very nature, an image using in the diffuse colour channel is going to be very easy to spot, but an image in a bump channel is simply redirecting surface normals. This isnt a legal answer by any means, but unless youre imprinting a copy of the mona lisa into a flat sheet via a bump map, nobody is going to recognise it; which then is likely to qualify as a transformative work.

2) Manipulation, yes theres an amount of change whereby the image then becomes yours, but nobody can define where this line is.

3) Copying. It depends how close and how much of the original image can be said to have been the original artists creation to begin with. eg. with a car, the original manufacturer has made this, its theirs, they will likely hunt you down if you start selling slick images of their cars as they probably make money lincencing them out.

For any pre-existing or natural object, all the original artist has is the lighting and composition. Youre free to remodel a flower from anothers painting, but if you match his composition and lighting exactly then you might have a problem. Similarly, if he does something unique to the flower such as pluck off petals to make a clock face, or tie the stem into a love heart, you might have a hard time copying those details.

4) The destination really only changes how likely it is youll be spotted for infringement in the first place ;-) Yes, I do consider this when I make work. If its an internal video to be seen by a dozen people, sure in those cases I dont care, but that doesnt change it from a legal standpoint, just how likely that anyone will care.

--

Overall, my personal line is 'will anyone notice?' If its impossible to tell, then I must have transformed it so much that I now consider it mine.
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Old 06 June 2013   #7
Originally Posted by imashination:
2) Manipulation, yes theres an amount of change whereby the image then becomes yours, but nobody can define where this line is....


I would guess you would be okay once the reference image has been changed enough enough so as not to be recognizable in your work.
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Old 06 June 2013   #8
Originally Posted by Dillster: I would guess you would be okay once the reference image has been changed enough enough so as not to be recognizable in your work.


Even that's a pretty vague standard, though. What if one person can't recognize, but another can? What if it's not recognizable at a casual glance, but if you study it carefully you can recognize it?
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Old 06 June 2013   #9
Yeah all those points are personal morality calls if the usage cannot be proven. Personally I wont use images with watermarks even for personal projects. First reason is the creator states they dont want that and mostly the item is for sale, usually at a very low price. Second, there is so much free content available where creators dont seem to care. Plus images you have on the web will also be used whether you want that or not.

For professional work there is a lot of high quality content in the stock realm that is low priced. Those costs you can pass onto your client. If you are working on a commision that is so miserable that you have to steal everything to make a buck or work at that studio, then you have to ask yourself if that is how you want to make your money.
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Old 06 June 2013   #10
Originally Posted by imashination: Overall, my personal line is 'will anyone notice?' If its impossible to tell, then I must have transformed it so much that I now consider it mine.


Yeah and I think that's a pretty common way of approaching most of the problems. I think I mostly work that way as well with the added caveat that I won't use someones work if they obviously wouldn't want me too (i.e. if someones watermarked their photos or locked them down online somehow then I wouldn't try to circumvent). Similarly if someone is charging for something then I'll pay rather than use it anyway, despite transformativeness.

Texture libraries are actually a very good example of this. Their purposes is to be used as textures so using them as a base but changing them and eventually still getting a texture out is for me something I wouldn't do, despite no one being able to tell if it was done or not.
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Old 06 June 2013   #11
I think with reference there is only one simple consideration. If they can't tell, then it is okay. On the other hand, I think it would be kind of lazy in this day and age to be doing so. Everyone has a cell phone with a high res camera these days. Many have iPads or tablets with amazing camera. Every time I see something texture worthy, I take a quick snap. Dirt, concrete, grass, flowers, bark, everything. Unless you needed specific reference from some other country I can't see why there would be much need for using other people's stuff these days.
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Old 06 June 2013   #12
Originally Posted by teruchan: If they can't tell, then it is okay.


I get that from a purely commercial point of view but I find it sort of cold personally. The texture example above sort of explains what I mean by that because someone makes and distributes a product that your use of is, by it's very nature, hard to tell.
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Old 06 June 2013   #13
Originally Posted by Meloncov: Even that's a pretty vague standard, though. What if one person can't recognize, but another can? What if it's not recognizable at a casual glance, but if you study it carefully you can recognize it?


Yes that's a good point which I hadn't considered.
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Old 06 June 2013   #14
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