Cowboy’ designers get copyright legal warning

“Cowboy” designers are being warned to respect the original creators of manipulated images following a Canadian court ruling over the copyright of a photograph of an American Indian.

Photolibrary Tony Stone Images has won a summary judgement against Canadian designer Stephen Arscott. The Court of Justice in Ontario ruled copyright is still infringed even if an image is transferred to another medium.

TSI claims the judgement sets a global precedent for photographers’ rights in cases of image-manipulation and could have wide-ranging implications for designers.

The case dates from 1994 when Arscott entered and won the CorelDraw World Design contest with a design called The Real West, based around a manipulated photograph, Potawatamie Indian, by Nick Vedros and licensed to TSI.

Arscott admitted copying the photograph but claimed he had not breached copyright as the image was transferred from a photograph to a computer drawing.

TSI group creative director Stephen Mayes does not know if Arscott will pay any damages. The case has been expensive, says Mayes, “but the expense of not doing it was even greater”.

Mayes adds: “In the main, a reputed designer will work honourably. It’s the ‘hole in the wall’ operations which are less rigorous. This judgement is really a message to the cowboys out there.”

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