|N.Y.C. Garbage collector's strike, 1911- horse-drawn |
cart being stoned (with 'scab' driver hiding inside).
What do the courts say? There are a handful of cases where unauthorized imagery has appeared as the background in theatrical works, including theater, film, and TV. In one of the better known cases, a court of appeals determined that it was not a fair use to post the poster of a “church quilt” in the background of a television series (for a total of 27 seconds). The court was influenced by the prominence of the poster, its thematic importance for the set decoration of a church, and the fact that it was a conventional practice to license such works for use in television programs. (Ringgold v. Black Entertainment Television, Inc., 126 F.3d 70 (2d Cir. 1997).) On the other hand, several copyrighted photographs appeared in the film Seven, prompting the copyright owner of the photographs to sue the producer of the movie. The court held that the photos “appear fleetingly and are obscured, severely out of focus, and virtually unidentifiable.” The court excused the use of the photographs as “de minimis” and didn’t require a fair use analysis. (Sandoval v. New Line Cinema Corp., 147 F.3d 215 (2d Cir. 1998).) Your situation is likely somewhere in between these two cases. We've summarized other fair use cases here (to give you a flavor of how judges rule) and we discuss the four fair use factors, here. We think your case could go either way and will likely be dependent on the duration of the photo's display, whether the display is considered informational and/or for purposes of commentary, and whether the combination of the dance performance and photograph creates a transformative use of the image. This may be one of those cases where an attorney's advice is needed. Assuming you're in Memphis, can you avail yourself of this organization's legal services?