You May Want to Own Your Own Images

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 In this way you can reuse and grant rights to the second, unpublished image as you wish.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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  1. please_stop_making_me_register_more_damn_accounts’s avatar

    Huh?

    “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”

    and

    “It was very unclear what the motivation was for the ACM to insist on owning the images.”

    But also

    “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.”

    Sounds pretty clear to me.

  2. job’s avatar

    RE: “Sounds pretty clear to me.”

    No, the fee was $25. I’d guess the time required for ACM to make the permission-to-use agreement with the book publisher cost more than the fee would cover.

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