Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mary Tyler Moore and the Kinko's Konondrum

Dear Rich: I want to take a digital photo of the famous opening shot for the Mary Tyler Moore Show where she tosses her hat up in the air and have that image spread onto a canvas. It would only be reproduced once and hung up at home for display. My problem is that I need to have one of the online companies reproduce this for me as I don't have the equipment to reproduce it onto canvas myself. They are asking if I have legal copyright permission to do this. Do I need it?! The short answer is that you probably don't need permission. Your use is likely excused under fair use principles (we won't go into the boring details). The trouble is that you can't explain that to the reproduction company because they want something in their files that says you have permission so that they can get you to pay for their lawsuit in case Mary (or ABC Family Television) finds out about your painting, decides it's improper and sues the reproduction company -- a situation that is about as unlikely as Mary turning the whole world on with her smile. 
The Kinko's Kondondrum
The Dear Rich Staff refers to your situation as the Kinko's Konondrum -- so named because we once faced this exact situation at a Kinko's (before they were FedExKinko's ... er, FedExOffice) and we tried to explain to the clerk behind the counter that we were the author of a book on copyright and that yes, our use was permissible even though we did not have permission. The clerk wasn't interested in our claims and we couldn't blame him.  (This was a few years after Kinko's had lost a fair use case over coursepack copying). In the end, we lied to get the job done. We do not advise you to lie and wish you the best in dealing with your moral dilemma. BTW, we hope you like our artistic take on Mary's hat throw --  we call it 'Love is All Around.'