Copyright at the Art Museum

Over the weekend we visited the Toledo Museum of Art.  It’s an impressive facility with pieces from many famous artists.  The spaces available in the galleries offer exceptional viewing environments.

As with many museums, most of the art can be photographed as long as no flash is used.  Modern art is normally off limits because the copyright has not expired.  The cutoff for copyright protection is 1923.  Anything before that time is now in the public domain.

We like paintings from the impressionist era (late 1800’s).  TMA has a wonderful collection with pieces by Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne and Pissarro.  Moving through the exhibit toward 1900, we ran across a Van Gogh and other post-impressionist paintings.  We were told not to photograph the last painting before the door. 


It’s still under copyright.

I looked at the description next to the painting.  The picture was painted in 1919.  I asked the docent if there was something special about this particular painting as everything else created in 1919 is now in the public domain.

Apparently this caused a bit of confusion.  The docent explained that everything less than one hundred years old was still protected by copyright.  This picture still had a few years left.

Fortunately I happen to have all human knowledge available to me on my iPod.  I showed (the growing crowd of docents) that 1923 was the magic year.  Anything created before that year is now unconditionally in the public domain.

They still wouldn’t let me take a picture.  The director was not there and he would have to change the policy.  Oh well, at least a few more people know about copyright and the public domain.

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