copyright

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In honor of SOPA-blackout day, here’s my sideways contribution to the confusion.

Is this blog post in potential violation of copyrights or trademarks? I don’t honestly know. The (great!) image below was made by Lee Griggs and Tomás Fernández Serrano at SolidAngle, the company that develops the Arnold renderer, used by (among others) Sony Imageworks for CG effects in their films.

So, let’s see, some issues with this post and image are:

He used Mineways to export the model from a Minecraft world. A texture pack terrain image is applied to the model. So, if you use a texture pack from some copyrighted source (which all of them are, by default; sadly, few declare themselves Creative Commons in any form), are you violating their copyright? What if, like in the image below, you can’t actually make out any details of the textures?

This Minecraft world was built by a lot of people – are their models somehow protected? In what ways? Over on the left there I see Mario and Luigi. These are trademarked figures (or copyrighted?). Are these illegal to build in your own Minecraft world? What about public, shared worlds where others see them? Or is it fine under good faith, since it’s non-commercial? Would selling the print then be illegal? How big does Mario have to be to infringe? Is it the building of them or the photographing of these models that’s illegal? Or is this a “public virtual space” where taking photos is fine? I can make some guesses, but don’t know.

Similarly, if one of the builders used a voxelizer like binvox to build a model from a commercially-sold mesh, would that be OK? At what resolution of voxels does the original mesh and the voxelized version become close enough for a violation to occur? Luckily, the model itself is just a bunch of cubes, and cubes themselves are not something protected by any laws, right? (well, Marchings Cubes were, but that’s a different story.) If I could download their mesh, could I legally use it? Probably not commercially, since it’s the arrangement of the cubes that’s important.

You’re saying to yourself that this is “tempest in a teapot” stuff, with no real likelihood anyone would demand a takedown of fan art. I remember the early years of the commercial internet, where Lucasfilm did just that, endlessly ordering takedowns of unauthorized Star Wars images, models, etc. (I guess they still do?). I even understand it: I’ve heard trademark must be actively defended to retain it. Most interesting of all, there was a United Kingdom Supreme Court ruling last summer involving Lucasfilm: the court ruled that 3D models are covered by “design rights” by default, giving them 3 to 10 year protection, or 25 years if registered. Stormtrooper helmets were judged “utilitarian”, not sculptures, and so are not covered by these rights. Fascinating! But that’s the UK – what if I order a stormtrooper helmet from the UK for delivery to the US? I assume it’s an illegal import.

Finally, am I breaking some law by including this image in my post, using the URL of the original post‘s image? I attribute the authors, but the image is copyright, explicitly shown in the Flickr version. I think I’d invoke Fair Use, since I’m making a point (oh, and that Fair Use link won’t work for a few more hours, with Wikipedia blacked out). Confusing.

With images, textures, and models referencing each other and all sloshing around the web, what copyright, trademark, and all the rest means gets pretty hazy, pretty quick. I’m guessing most of the questions I pose have definitive answers (or maybe not!), but I know I’m part of the vast majority that aren’t sure of those answers. Which is probably mostly fine (except when corporations overstep their bounds), since our culture is much richer for all the reuse that most of us do without any financial gain and without worrying about it.

Update: I just noticed this article on Gamasutra on similar issues (the difference being that the author actually knows what he’s talking about).

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The harddrive on my main computer died, which has the odd effect of making me have more time for blogging (and less for screwing around on random stuff). So, seven things:
  • First, if you’re going to HPG 2011, I’ll save you five minutes of searching for where it is: it’s at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, Google map here. Note also that things don’t start until 1:30 on Friday.
  • SIGGRAPH parties? I know nothing, except that the official SIGGRAPH reception is 9 to 11 PM Monday at the convention center, and the ACM SIGGRAPH Chapters Party is 8:30 PM to 2 AM on, oh, Monday again. Odd scheduling.
  • Timothy Lottes cannot be stopped: FXAA 3.11 is out (with improvements for thin lines), and 3.12 will soon appear. Note that the shader has a signature change, so your calling shader code will have to change, too.
  • At the Motorola developer site there’s a quick summary of various image compression types used for mobile phones and PCs.
  • Sebastien Hillaire implement the God Rays effect from GPU Gems 3, showing results and problems. Code and executable available for download.
  • I’ve been enjoying some worthwhile articles on patents and copyrights lately, both new and old. Worth a mention: Myrhvold madnessa comic (a bit old but useful) on copyright – a good overview; The Public Domain, a free book by a law professor who helped establish Creative Commons; the July 2011 CACM (behind the paywall, though) had a nice article on why the U.S. dropped “opt-in” copyright back in 1989 (blame Europe). Best idea gleaned, from The Public Domain: the length of copyright is meant to motivate people to create works for payment, so a retroactive increase in the length of copyright  (e.g., to protect Mickey Mouse) makes no sense – it creates no motivation for works already created.
  • Polygon Pictures’ office corridor would be a bad place to be if you worked way too many hours. Otherwise, nice!

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We’ve talked about this before, how ACM’s copyright policy stated that they, not you, control the copyright of any images you publish in their journals, proceedings, or other publications. For example, if your hometown newspaper wants to publish a story of “local boy makes good” and wish to include samples of your work, they needed to ask the ACM for permission (and pay the ACM $28 per image). Not a huge problem, but it’s a bureaucratic roadblock for a reasonable request. Researchers are usually surprised to hear they have lost this right.

While it was possible to be assertive and push to retain copyright to your images (or even article) and just grant ACM unlimited permission – certainly firms such as Pixar and Disney have done so with their content – the default was to give the ACM this copyright control.

James O’Brien brought it to our attention that this policy has been revised, and I asked Stephen Spencer (SIGGRAPH’s Director of Publications) for details. His explanation follows.

ACM has recently changed its copyright policy to include the option, under certain circumstances, of retaining copyright on embedded content in material published by ACM. Embedded content can now fall into one of three categories: copyright of the content is transferred to ACM as part of the rest of the paper (the default), the content is “third-party” material (not created by the author(s)), or the content is considered an “artistic image.”

The revised copyright form includes this definition of “artistic images”:

“An exception to copyright transfer is allowed for images or figures in your paper which have ‘independent artistic value.’ You or your employer may retain copyright to the artistic images or figures which you created for some purpose other than to illustrate a point in this paper and which you wish to exploit in other contexts.”

The ACM Copyright Policy page also documents this change in policy.

ACM’s electronic copyright system is being updated to implement this change; authors who wish to declare one or more pieces of embedded content in their papers as “artistic images” should contact Stephen Spencer (at <[email protected]>) to receive a PDF version of the revised copyright form.

The copyright form includes instructions for declaring embedded content as “artistic images,” both in your paper and on the copyright form.

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Note that this change is “going forward”; if you have already given ACM the copyright, you cannot get it back. Understandable, as otherwise there could be a flood of requests for recategorization.

I’m happy to see this change, it is a good step in the right direction.

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I asked Andrew Glassner to outline the process he went through to free up his book from his publisher and put it on Google Books. Here’s his reply. I hope this information will encourage anyone else who has authored a book that’s now out-of-print to spend a bit of time and effort to get it out to us all.


If you plan to release your book through Google Books, the most important thing is that you own and control the copyright. Most book publishing contracts state that when the book goes “out of print,” the rights revert to the author. This is usually not automatic: you have to ask the publisher for the rights, and they have to explicitly return them to you. I usually ask for a real, paper letter with a real, human signature on it that states the rights have been returned to me (I don’t know if an email version would carry the same official weight). This is a good time to ask them for any other physical or electronic documents they have for your book, from illustrations to PDFs and so on. They’re usually under no obligation to give you these, but often they’ll give you what they have.

You’ll also need control of at least some “Territorial Rights,” which are discussed below. It’s probably easiest to get the publisher to revert the copyright and territorial rights at the same time.

Note that it’s usually up to the publisher to determine if a book is “out of print” or not. Even if it’s many years old, and they’re not putting ink on paper any more, they may still formally consider the book to be in print. I suggest contacting your publisher and first inquiring if it’s out of print. If they say it isn’t, but you think it should be, ask them why. They might just not have gotten around to giving it that status. Be polite and professional and work with your publisher to establish the status of the book as clearly as possible. When it is out of print, ask to have copyright reverted back to you. If the publisher wants to retain some rights, offer an agreement whereby they revert the rights to you, but you then assign some rights back to them. For example, you might grant them non-exclusive electronic rights, so they can provide the book on their website.

Now that you own the copyright, create an account at the Google books partner program. If you already have a Google account (say with Gmail) you may be able to simply use that; I chose to create a new account. I don’t recall if Google asks you for payment information at this point or not. If you end up charging money for any of your books, Google has to report that income to the IRS (if you’re from outside the US, I don’t know how this works). Although I was planning to release my book for free, I set up my partnership through my one-man LLC. I don’t recall if I had to give them any kind of tax information (e.g., a Federal Taxpayer ID, which is the business equivalent of a Social Security Number) at this point or not.

Once your account is created, choose “Books”. Go to “Add Books” and enter your ISBN. Often, this is the bar code printed on the book. Another source is Amazon, which usually lists the ISBN on the book’s page. Some ISBNs are 10 digits, some are 13. Try all the versions you can find until you get one that Google recognizes as your book.

Click the question mark next to Territorial Rights, look over the options, and enter the rights that you control. Note that the publisher must explicitly relinquish those rights when they return the copyright to you. I don’t know the mechanics of this step, but Google must be checking with someone, somewhere to confirm that you own the rights. When I initially listed my book, I chose “all” for this field, and a few days later Google sent me a nice email stating I didn’t own these rights. I contacted my publisher and explained I was releasing the book through Google Books and needed to control the Territorial Rights (in addition to the copyright they’d already returned to me). They were very nice about it, and a few days later let me know it was done. I don’t know what they did, but it worked.

Google will now ask if you have a PDF or physical book you can send them. I said I did not. They then said that they would let me know if and when they scanned the book in the future. They seem to say this even if they’ve already scanned the entire book. My understanding is that if they’ve scanned any of it, they’ve scanned all of it, even if they’re only displaying a few pages. So I figured that if I gave them some time, their database of scanned-in books would catch up with this request to scan in the book, and the full PDF would appear. That indeed happened about a week later.

At that point your book’s status will go to “Live”. At the far left of your book’s listing (just to the left of the ISBN) there’s a little pencil icon. Click on that. You can now control how much of the book is shown to viewers by choosing a level from the “Book Browsable” drop-down. If you choose 100%, then they will give you the chance to apply one of several different Creative Commons licenses. There’s a nice summary of them right there on the page. I chose “Attribution-Noncommercial,” so that I get credit for my work, nobody can re-sell it for profit, but other people can build upon it.

Let Google digest and process these changes.  They say it can take up to a few days.  Then your book should be ready to share with the world!

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I received my ACM SIGGRAPH 2010 Election form today, it provides some login info and a PIN. SIGGRAPH members can vote for up to three people for the Director-At-Large positions.

I can be pretty apathetic about these sorts of elections, ACM and IEEE, I have to admit. Sometimes I’ll get inspired and read the statements, sometimes I’ll skim, sometimes I’ll just vote for names I know, sometimes I’ll ignore the whole thing. This year’s ACM SIGGRAPH election is different for me, because of issues brought up by the Ke-Sen Huang situation. Specifically, the ACM’s copyright policy is lagging behind the needs of its members.

For this SIGGRAPH election I was happy to see that James O’Brien is on the slate. In the past James has worked to retain the rights to his own images, so he’s aware of the issues. In his election statement he writes:

The ACM Digital Library has been a great success, but the move to digital publishing has created conflicts between ACM and member interests. ACM and SIGGRAPH are fundamentally member service organizations and I believe that through thoughtful and progressive copyright policies we can better align organization and member needs. Successful copyright policy has to work across formats, and SIGGRAPH is unique among ACM SIGs in that member-generated content spans a diverse range encompassing text, images, and video. Other organizations have embraced Open Access initiatives, but SIGGRAPH and ACM should be leading the way in this area.

He has my vote. He’s also the only candidate who addresses this area of concern, and in a thoughtful and professional manner. If you’re a SIGGRAPH member, I hope you’ll take the time this year to read over the statements, figure out your login ID and user number, and then go vote.

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Now that the SIGGRAPH 2010 paper deadline is over, I thought it worth mentioning ways in which you can retain full use of your own images, should you be fortunate enough to have your work accepted for publication. This isn’t meant as an “ACM’s copyright policy is bad” article, rather it presents some possible workarounds while waiting for the policy to be improved. Think of these ideas as code patches.

A number of graphics people were talking about the ACM’s copyright policy. James O’Brien wrote:

I also am bothered by the fact that ACM claims to own images used in a publication. For example, if I render an image and use it to illustrate a paper, ACM now claims to own the copyright on the image and I am limited in what I can use that image for in the future. I’d like included images and other non-text content to be treated similarly to how 3rd party images are currently treated so that the authors retain copyright to the images and only grant ACM unlimited permission to use.

Larry Gritz replied:

James, why are you more bothered by “I painted the image, now they claim ownership” than “I wrote the words, now they claim ownership”? Aren’t they essentially the same situation?

James responded:

Not really, at least not to me. The images often represent a huge amount of work to demonstrate some algorithm. The words I wrote in an afternoon and I can always write some more words that say roughly the same thing if I had to. The images also have uses beyond the paper. For example, if “Time” magazine writes an article about me, they will want to run the images, or if a textbook author decides to talk about my algorithms s/he may want the images to illustrate the book. I also don’t see the argument for why ACM would benefit by owning the images. It’s a case where it costs the author something but gains ACM nothing, so why not change the policy to maximize everyone’s benefit?

In further discussions, we identified a few different ways to be able to use your own images. Mine is one that was first mentioned in the Ray Tracing News in 2005:

My advice (worth exactly nothing in court) to anyone publishing nowadays is to make two images of any image to be published, one from a fairly different view, etc. In this way you can reuse and grant rights to the second, unpublished image as you wish. That said, there’s an area of law where you compare one photo with another and if they match by 80% (by some eyeballing metric), then they’re considered the same photo for purposes of copyright. Usually this is meant to protect one photographer’s composition from being reused by another. What it means to 3D computer graphics, where it’s easy to change the view, etc., remains to be seen. Still, ACM’s rights to your work are less clear for a new, different image. This sort of thing is small potatoes, but taking action so that you have images and videos you fully own then removes the hassle-factor of granting permission to others wanting to use your work.

James O’Brien said the following:

I’ve bumped into this copyright issue with images a few times. The first was when a book author wanted to use an image of mine in her text. I said yes, but she was subsequently told by ACM that she needed ACM’s permissions and she had to pay a fee and include a notice crediting ACM rather than me.

If you are willing to be persistent, you can keep ownership of your copyright for your whole paper and just grant ACM unlimited permission. I did this in 2005 and if you download “Animating Gases with Hybrid Meshes,” SIGGRAPH 2005, from the DL you will see the copyright notice says “copyright held by author”. That was inserted by them instead of the regular notice after several days of discussion on the phone. It was very unclear what the motivation was for the ACM to insist on owning the images.

If the images are owned by a 3rd party they can only ask you to get permission. After 2005, I did a few papers where I included a note that the images were all copyright by UC Berkeley and used with permission. It’s not clear if that sort of note means anything.

The latest version of the ACM copyright form I’ve seen requires you to fill out an addendum listing 3rd-party-owned components and you have to get a separate permission form for them. My paper in SCA this summer required this form (images owned by Lucas Arts). It was a hassle to get Lucas to sign off on the permissions. But that’s not ACM’s fault… in fact Stephen Spencer was very flexible.

An anonymous person wrote:

Another option would be for people concerned about this to set up an organization, call it Digital Images LLC, that you assign the copyright to as soon as you generate the image. (That will likely require the permission of your university or employer, since the image is arguably a work-made-for-hire under the copyright law and therefore owned by the employer.)

Digital Images LLC then licenses its copyright in the images so that you can use it in papers, books, or other works. As far as ACM is concerned, it’s just like if you used a figure from another source with permission. The ACM policy makes that clear:

The author’s copyright transfer applies only to the work as a whole, and not to any embedded objects owned by third parties. An author who embeds an object, such as an art image that is copyrighted by a third party, must obtain that party’s permission to include the object, with the understanding that the entire work may be distributed as a unit in any medium.

So, there are at least three ways where you can retain full rights to your own images. Mine is “make another”, James’ is “request an exception”, and there’s finally “create an LLC”. If you have another, have information about the use of any of these, or just plain have an opinion, please comment.

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Well, not just from the ACM, but also from people involved in the Ke-Sen Huang and ACM Publications situation.

  • ACM SIGGRAPH membership also gives you access to just about all computer graphics papers in the ACM Digital Library. This I knew already, but found that others haven’t realized it. Any conference sponsored by SIGGRAPH is available, from what I can tell, e.g. I3D. I noticed a few weeks ago that the SIGGRAPH 2009  Posters were not accessible to me through this benefit; the ACM fixed this problem when I reported it.
  • Deep linking, where one site links directly to content on another site, is not illegal. The EFF notes that deep linking has not yet been found to be illegal by the courts. However, linking to sites providing infringing (illegal) copies of a work for download is contributory infringement.
  • “Sweat of the brow” compilations, such as the white pages of phone books, are not copyright. There is no original expression involved, so the Supreme Court ruled such are not protected. Paula Samuelson’s article in the Communications of the ACM (Google Scholar hits here) is a fascinating overview. Titles are not copyright. Elements such as the order in a Table of Contents are in a gray area, from what I can see. The ordering and grouping of the articles into sessions may be copyright protected – the courts have not ruled, as far as I know. Changing that order on an external web page would then not be copyright, since it would be a different “original” expression. Alphabetized or numerical ordering is not copyright protected.
  • You do not need to enforce your copyright to maintain it, unlike a trademark. You can ignore an infringement and not lose your rights. So the argument that a copyright must be protected now in order to preserve it in the future is incorrect.

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