Poster Mistress, lure, Sash, and Jermaine make some good points. Check out the Copyright Office site - http://www.loc.gov/copyright/ – particularly the Copyright Basics and FAQs sections.
The absolute safest course is not to use any image that you did not create unless you have permission from the copyright owner, preferably in writing (and if the subject of the image is famous you may want to get his or her permission too – the Right of Publicity protects a person’s right to control uses of their name and likeness).
As to how long a work is protected by copyright – for most works created now, the protection lasts for as long as whoever created it is alive, plus 70 years. For some older works it is 95 years. See the Copyright site – there are exceptions.
Poster Mistress and Sash are right to bring up the doctrine of parody – it is an exception to the monopoly a copyright owner has over his work. Parody is a particular kind of Fair Use – see Section 107 of the Copyright Act - http://www.loc.gov/copyright/title17/92chap1.html#107 - Fair Use cases are fact specific and subjective – what is Fair Use or parody to one person (or court) may be infringement to someone else.
The big case on Fair Use and Parody is the 2 Live Crew case - http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/cas/com.../campbell.html - the band claimed that their unauthorized cover of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” was a parody. The first court to hear the case said that what 2 Live Crew did was Fair Use. The owners of the song appealed -- and the next court said that it was infringement. 2 Live Crew then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled in favor of it’s being a Fair Use. This case dealt with music not graphics but the principles are the same. If you ever have the time, check out the part of the case that explains what parody is all about (it says, for example, that a true parody is criticism or comment about the work that it copies).
Some of what lure says is correct, but be aware that a copyright owner bringing an infringement suit does not necessarily have to prove actual damages. He can choose to get “statutory damages” which can be as much as $150,000 per infringement. MP3.com was ordered to pay $25,000 for each CD it copied without permission – $53,400,000; the amount was up to the judge – it could have been much more.
In addition to copyright (and Right of Publicity) a poster artist should be aware of trademark law. A band generally has a right in its name (or logo etc.). If you produce a poster that includes a band’s trademark, and the poster was not commissioned by the band or an agent of the band, the band might consider it trademark infringement or unfair competition. There is a trademark Fair Use doctrine but it is somewhat different from copyright Fair Use because trademark law and copyright law are based on different parts of the U.S. Constitution and serve different purposes.
Also check out http://www.nolo.com/lawcenter/index....E6B5BD92AACD48 - more info on copyright and trademark law.
Poster Mistress is right when she says that this is a somewhat gray area and cannot be explained in a short post. For any specific issue you run into, there is no substitute for getting the advice of a competent attorney. Some cities have organizations that provide legal consultations for free or at reduced rates to artists. Other than that, take a look at the sites noted above. You can also call the Copyright Office with questions – (202) 707-3000, though the people answering the phones may not be attorneys and probably cannot give you a legal opinion on a specific matter.
<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Jag on 2002-04-12 22:33 ]</font>