Friday, 30 January 2015


I read a lot in my spare time. Mainly concentrating on Sci-Fi, history and art subjects, but I am fairly widely read.  Currently reading Dickens’ Bleak House, and have a number of others backing up on my Kindle. 

 I’m always thinking of ideas for my Zazzle store and so the idea of classic authors seemed a decent enough possibility.  Then I also remembered that Zazzle allows people to customise each image (as long as the store owner allows them) and it seemed even more interesting.

  I thought – find a number of Victorian writers, preferably who had been photographed and I could then do my own interpretation of the photo.  Photography seemed important, because then I wouldn’t find myself trying to copy another artist’s work.  And because of copyright reasons they would have to be particularly old images.  I did a little search on Google, to see how many I could find that were decent enough to give me the visual cues I needed. 

 A surprising number of nineteenth century writers and artists had been photographed, some of the biggies such as Dickens and Poe, and a surprising few omissions (no Bronte sisters even though they lived at the beginning of photography) but of course I was conscious also that people like Burns had died before photography.  I realise if I'm to go forward with this I will have to make use of paintings, drawing and whatever I can find.  After all, I can hardly leave out Jane Austin and Mary Shelly just because there are no photographs of them.  

 So the idea is, a number of writers with a big speech bubble placed next to them, where someone using the customising function could place their favourite quote either from a book or an actual statement made by the author.

Mr Poe, Mr Thackeray, and Mr Dickens.

Then I (of course) began to have doubts.  Were these old photographs really as copyright free as I believed?  Who actually owns them?  I began to backpeddle slightly.  The H. P. Lovecraft image I had done now appeared very problematic.  I knew that his friend August Derleth had taken over his estate and was largely responsible for his popularity today.  It was obvious that the Lovecraft image was a no-go.  

Zazzle are pretty pro-active about removing things from their site if they think there will be a copyright problem

Mr Lovecraft.  I think he's alright on my blog, but don't expect to see him on Zazzle anytime soon.
so I'll trust to them to know what's applicable, and remove anything that they're nervous about.  I still think I'm okay with Dickens and Thackeray and Eliot, but Konrad?  He died in the twenties, and I always thought that copyright lapsed after seventy years.  The photographer is almost certainly not with us anymore either, but what about ownership of the actual image - the face of a person?

Can that be owned by a company after so much time has elapsed?  In fact there's a lot of uncertainty that I haven't seen solid answers for.  Can I use an image if I make sufficient changes to it to make it my own?  Is that picture above of Lovecraft okay, as it obviously doesn't really resemble the actual photograph.  But of course, anybody could easily recognise the photograph I used to make the image, as the face and angle of the face and the lighting is very distinctive.

Well, I'll put some up and see what happens, and if there are any problems - well that'll teach me to copy writers.

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  1. Best idea is to Google them under Public Domain. There's Wikimedia Commons, which tells you what the deal is with each image.

  2. Thanks Sue, as it happens now that I check on that particular image of Lovecraft I see that it is a commons image and completely in the public domain. I didn’t expect that because I’m continually frustrated by not being able to get the images I want from wikicommons. But I suppose we should be thankful that it exists at all.

    My biggest gripe is Flickr commons – where you search for an image and find one you want, and then on examining the terms you find that the person who put it there doesn’t want it used in any way, and you’re left fuming wondering why they put it there in the first place.

    So in spite of what I say above – maybe you will see Mr Lovecraft on Zazzle after all :)