Copyright and Public Domain
The images on this website are either used by permission or are in the public domain. After personally reviewing this website with a university licensing and copyright expert and discussing it with a practicing attorney, here is my understanding: Public domain for artwork occurs after the death of the artist plus 70 years. In addition, recent legal decisions (e.g., Bridgeman v. Corel, 1999; Meshwerks v. Toyota, 2008; Feist v. Rural, 1991) have held that a threshold of originality is required for copyright and that “slavish” reproductions of public domain artworks, even those reproductions involving considerable expertise, do not reach a level of originality sufficient to carry copyright of their own. In its 2008 decision, for example, the US Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote, “[T]he law is becoming increasingly clear: one possesses no copyright interest in reproductions…when these reproductions do nothing more than accurately convey the underlying image.”
This website is not an academic journal, obviously, but it may also be useful to mention here that the fact that some academic journals continue to pay museums and image libraries for reproductions of public domain artworks is largely a matter of tradition and is immaterial as a legal argument. Copyright terms have always been constitutionally limited, and public domain exists for an important societal reason; for more on the ethical and legal ramifications of this subject, see the Duke School of Law Center for the Study of the Public Domain. For more on the legal and ethical ramifications of claiming copyright where no copyright exists, see, among other sources, “Copyfraud” (New York University Law Review), by Jason Mazzone, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School. Finally, on the subject of photographs of public domain artworks, for a recent interview of an intellectual law specialist at the University of Virginia Law School, see here.