Dear Rich: I am developing a mobile educational app using diagnostic x-ray images obtained from free access websites. Are x-rays subject to copyright protection in the U.S. and the rest of the world? Would I even be able to use x-ray images from published books?
We can only speak to U.S. law where the position taken by the Copyright Office is that copyright will not protect diagnostic medical x-rays.
X-rays are useful articles. The Copyright Office Compendium Sec. 924.3(D) states that "Generally, the U.S. Copyright Office will not register medical x-rays or imaging, regardless of whether they are claimed on an application as photographs, images, artwork, or graphics. These types of images are considered useful articles, because they have an intrinsic utilitarian function, and the skill or craft used to create the images (if any) is dictated by that functional purpose." This rule also applies to MRIs, echocardiograms, mammograms, ultrasounds, iodine imaging, angiograms and electrocardiograms.
Exceptions: compilations and x-ray art. The Copyright Office will register x-ray imaging in two situations. First, the author of a textbook or website that incorporates x-rays may register the compilation of images. A compilation copyright protects the order and selection of the images but does not protect individual x-rays. Second, copyright will protect imaging technology when it is used for artistic purposes in which case the purpose of the imaging "must be conceptually separable and sufficiently creative." Examples of x-ray art include works by artists Hugh Turvey and Nick Veasey.
P.S. Dept. Avoid posting x-rays with any identifying information that violates patient privacy laws.