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Be Careful When Taking Pictures of Other People’s Art

The U.S. Postal Service owes the man who sculpted the Korean War memorial nearly $685,000

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Soldiers at the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Photo: Kevin Burkett

The Korean War Veterans Memorial is a moving piece of public art and a haunting displaying reflecting on those lost in the war. Like all of the other statues and sculptures and monuments that dot the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the Korean War memorial is heavily photographed. But when you’re lining up your camera to snap that perfect Facebook cover photo there’s something you need to keep in mind unless you, too, want to get slammed with a $685,000 lawsuit:

If you take a photograph of someone else’s work of art and then try to profit off of it, your photograph could be in violation of their copyright

It’s a tricky concept, and certainly one that has various shades of grey. Taking a photo of a photo feels like copyright infringement, but taking a snap of a sculpture, especially one so prominently on public display, feels a little different, right?

The U.S. postal service, says USA Today, found out the hard way that they’re not so different after all. Years ago, the Postal Service put out a stamp honoring the 50th anniversary of the Korean War, says PetaPixel, showing a photograph of the memorial. Shortly after, Frank Gaylord, the man who sculpted the soldiers used in the memorial, sued for infringement. Now, a U.S. Court of Federal Claims says that the Postal Service owes Gaylord $684,844, an amount based around a 10 precent royalty on the sales of the stamp bearing the infringing photo.

Gaylord spent five years sculpting the 19 soldiers known as The Column. The result was a war memorial that many feel is the most compelling on the National Mall. He was paid $775,000 by the government for the statues but only netted about $200,000 after expenses, according to court testimony.

So, if you take a photo of some gorgeous public art, just remember, the photo may be yours, but the things depicted in it aren’t.

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Hunt for a New, Copyright-Free Happy Birthday Song
Copyright Confection: The Distinctive Topography of the Hershey Bar
Will One Patent Kill Podcasting?

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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