Thursday, February 6, 2020

Can I Publish Library Sketch?

Dear Rich: I am an architectural historian studying libraries. If I have permission to enter a famous house in order to measure and sketch the library, can I publish my sketch without further permission? Would it make a difference if the sketch is a floor plan of the library instead of an elevation? 
It's likely you won't need further permissions ... but you should consider the following before publishing:
Copyright hassles? Not! You won't have to worry about copyright claims if you are (1) the sole author of the sketch, and (2) you haven't reproduced a copyright-protected work within the library, for example, a watercolor, poster, or sculpture, and (3) the famous house was designed before December 1, 1990. (Copyright only protects buildings created after December 1, 1990, and if the house was designed after that date, you should review our article on architectural copyright.)
Contract and privacy hassles? Maybe. Did you sign anything, or make any agreements that conditioned your entry into the home? For example, were there any discussions or requirements regarding privacy or confidentiality? Would the publication of the sketch reveal any private or potentially embarrassing information -- for example, the location of valuable, rare books, or the presence of a pornography collection? Are you publishing the sketch as an advertisement for a product or service? Is it likely that the homeowner would learn of your publication and be unhappy?
Bottom Line Dept. Most likely, your publication of sketches of the library won't give rise to legal claims. But if you answered, "Yes" to any of the questions above, particularly the last one, then publication may trigger a breach of contract claim, invasion of privacy, or violation of the right of publicity. In such cases, your liability would be reduced if you published the floor plans rather than a detailed sketch.

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