Well, every once in a while we see this — public domain art is slurped back into the copyright toothpaste tube by some outré legal theory. And so it is with German postage stamp art. So, dear Vintage Printable users, we’ve deleted all the German postage stamp art and also deleted our Pinterest board on the subject.
In our view, the basis is ridiculous. But, we don’t want to be disappeared by some kind of German copyright-stasi.
The background: Wikimedia Commons had posted vintage German postage stamp art, with the rationale that because the art was done on behalf of the German government, the work would fall outside of copyright jurisdiction and into the public domain. * In general, art done on behalf of governments is not copyrightable, and is in the public domain. (This is an oversimplification, see your trusted adviser for all the ins and outs).
Apparently, a recent case in Germany** threw cold water on the public domain aspect of mid-century German stamp art. An heir to a German artist sued Wikimedia Foundation in Germany for publishing the artist’s German stamp art. Wikimedia Foundation lost because (as we understand it) the art was separate from the physical stamp — so the art was separately copyrighted from the art-on-the-stamp. (Perhaps we have this wrong as we really don’t understand it and it seems contrived to us.)
So, we took down all the Deutch Bundespost stamp art, mostly from the 1950s and 1960s that we assumed was public domain as it was work on behalf of a governmental organization.
Given this German decision how is the general public to know what governments considered copyrighted and what they don’t? We try to respect copyrights — and that’s why we stick to vintage images or governmental works. But how are we to know when some third party heir in some po-dunk country somewhere like Germany*** is going to make a stink? For someone to come out of nowhere and claim “gotcha” is not the “promot[ing] the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries” **** and is basically deleterious to sites like this one that aggregates and tags what seems to us to be public domain/out-of-copyright images.
Now, we what we don’t know about international law is a lot. But. We vote to kick Germany out off the World Trade Organization island. The World Trade Organization is supposed to level the economic playing field. As we understand it, the WTO requires all members to have more or less the same intellectual property law, and this seems out-of-whack with copyright in other jurisdictions (although, conceivably, this German stamp art was prepared before the WTO agreement).
Well, we’re done complaining. But that still leaves our users without that terrific mid-century German stamp art that should be public domain but for some protectionist court decision out of Berlin.
* Per Wikimedia Commons with complete common sense, in our view: “This stamp is in the public domain in Germany because it was released by Deutsche Bundespost on behalf of the Federal Minister of Post and Telecommunication and thus is an official work according to German copyright law (§ 5 Abs. 1 UrhG).” This seems to be a separate issue from whether the German stamp art would be public domain after the 1995 privatization of the German post (Deutche Bundespost).
** The Loriot case originally had some kerfuffle over the publicity rights over publication of the artist’s signature, but since this was a “what is, is” situation, there was no violation (apparently, our interpretation which could be incorrect, because the reports are in German, one, and unclear, two). Although the German legal details are beyond the scope of this post, it seems that the German local court ruled that there can be copyright material within the German stamp.
***California is half as big as Germany, economically, here, yo. True dat.
****US Constitution Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8, cue Harrah for the Red, White, and Blue for our high-handed quotation. But still, really, this “gotcha” copyright game is ridiculous.