Thursday, January 30, 2014
Is American Gothic in the Public Domain?
VAGA, the licensing organization that represents the estate of Grant Wood, then perhaps you can successfully assert the claims made by academics and by the Art Institute of Chicago (where the painting hangs). However, keep in mind that not everybody believes the work is in the public domain. In American Gothic: A Life of American's Most Famous Painting (2006), author Steven Biel states that the copyright status of American Gothic "is a matter of considerable murkiness and disagreement." He notes that Nan Wood, who acquired rights from Grant Wood, registered a reproduction of the work in 1952 and renewed the copyright in 1980. If the 1952 registration is valid, then the renewal would be likely be, as well. Although we have our doubts as to the copyright status of the work, we'll sidestep a final verdict on public domain status because the answer can only come from the courts ... which leads us back to your pocketbook (and its size). VAGA maintains that American Gothic is not public domain and continues to assert rights against others, not just for copyright infringement but also for commercial uses of Nan Wood's image (right of publicity). We're all for cultural freedom, but from a practical perspective, if you're using the image ... watch out for that legal pitchfork.