Letter: Cardiff Kook Run and copyright infringement

Last month, the Cardiff Chamber of Commerce sued the organizers of the Cardiff Kook Run for copyright infringement.

The organizers of the Cardiff Kook Run used the Cardiff Kook statue as the centerpiece for their marketing and had done so for years. The Kook is a copyrighted work, and the rights belong to the Chamber. In previous years, the race organizers got permission to use pictures of the statue. However, this year they didn’t and the two sides couldn’t work it out. So the Chamber sued them.

This led a lot of people to wonder, “Can I take pictures of a statue (or other things) that are clearly visible and in public?” In most circumstances, the answer is yes.

That’s because copyright law has an exception called “Fair Use” that protects common uses of copyrighted materials. While it would be boring to explain it in full, we can flesh it out with some examples.

If you take a picture of a city skyline and put it on your website, you’re unlikely to have problems even though you’re photographing copyrighted works. Why? Because no particular work is the real focus of the photo. Besides, it would be impractical to take a picture of a city skyline if you had to get a release from every building (yes, buildings are copyrighted... kind of).

If you’re taking a picture of a statue, putting it in your logo and using the name of that statue as the name for your for-profit event — now you might have a problem. All of the factors in the Fair Use statute start working against you. You’re using it for profit. You’re using a copy of the whole statue. The statue is central to the advertisements for your event. And if this sort of use were allowed, there wouldn’t be much point in having the copyright in the first place.

The only thing working in your favor here is that the work is easily and casually visible to the public. That’s very relevant, but it’s not enough to outweigh the other factors.

Like any litigation, this story is probably messier than it appears on the surface. We’re standing on the outside of a four-year relationship between the Cardiff Kook Run and the Chamber, looking at one aspect. Maybe one side or the other should have been more flexible or more communicative, but we don’t know which one. The only thing we can tell from the outside is that, just based on the copyright claim, the Chamber probably had a good case.

Long story short, don’t worry. Take pictures and enjoy your summer. Just don’t make any of those pictures the logo for your business without seeing a lawyer first.

William Moore,

The Moore Firm