Creativity, copyright and where to find it

The photographs I take (and sometimes touch up) are meant for personal use, and not for profit, so I normally don’t have to worry about matters of copyright infringement. However, every so often there are developments out there that need to be taken into account. A recent case in England (now known as the Red Bus case) serves to remind us what could happen if you don’t watch out.

Briefly, you don’t have to be ripping off an image to be accused of copyright infringement. You can be found equally liable if your image is substantially similar to someone else’s, as originality can arise from

  1. specialities of angle of shot, light and shade, exposure and effects achieved with filters, developing techniques and so on;
  2. the creation of the scene to be photographed;
  3. being in the right place at the right time; and
  4. any manipulations (whether digital or otherwise) being undertaken after the capture of the image.

As the judge observed in this case:

30. Copyright is infringed by reproducing the whole or a substantial part of a work in a material form (s16 and s17 of the 1988 Act). It was common ground between the parties that a “substantial part” is a matter of quality not quantity…. First one asks whether there has been copying and if so which features have been copied, and then asks whether that represents a substantial part of the original. One does not then ask if the alleged infringement looks on the whole similar, because one can reproduce a substantial part without necessarily producing something that looks similar even though of course it may do so.

The photograph here, besides showing a double-decker Routemaster bus crossing Westminster Bridge with the Houses of Parliament in the background. This is an image that millions of tourists have taken pictures of. However, the claimant was able to successfully claim that copyright subsisted in its image, which was infringed because the defendant’s image copied the following key elements:

  • it was a monochrome photograph with the bus highlighted in red;
  • it was crossing the bridge from right to left (ie, north to south);
  • the sky was a very light grey, and has a large portion of the image;
  • the Elizabeth Tower (in which Big Ben is found), together with a large portion of Parliament’s riverside façade, as well as Portcullis House, figure prominently in the background;
  • there is no other obvious traffic; and
  • the top of the bus is at roughly the same height as Parliament’s façade.

There were differences between the two images, but otherwise the key elements above were plainly the same, thus constituting a substantial part of the picture, and that’s why the applicant won.

Does that mean that any other photograph could infringe? The judge said:

68. I sympathise with Mr Houghton in his wish to use an image of London landmarks. He is free to do so. There are entirely independent images of the same landmarks available to be used which predate publication of Mr Fielder’s picture. But the defendants do not want to use those, no doubt for their own good reasons. Perhaps they did not look as attractive as the claimant’s image? The defendants went to rather elaborate lengths to produce their image when it seems to me that it did not need to be so complicated. Mr Houghton could have simply instructed an independent photographer to go to Westminster and take a picture which includes at least a London bus, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Whatever image was produced could then have been used on the tins of tea. Such an image would not infringe. It may or may not have the same appealing qualities as the claimant’s image. Even if it did they would be the result of independent skill and labour employed by the independent photographer….

Canadian copyright law is quite similar, as noted in s. 3 of the Copyright Act. Just one more thing to be careful about.


50 years ago this year…

Embed from Getty Images

After reflecting recently on what things were like during our Centennial year, it’s useful to think about how radically things changed in 1968. The first item, of immediate interest to all Canadians, was that Pierre Trudeau (shown above) became leader of the Liberal Party, and Prime Minister, in 1968.

Embed from Getty Images

After he won, he later went to Rideau Hall to consummate the transfer of power. I hear that Justin has inherited that Mercedes, but have never seen him taking a spin in it. Perhaps the Mounties won’t let him.

There were other events that would have greater impact around the world.

Revolutionary operaThe Cultural Revolution (文化大革命), begun in 1966, saw its peak in the spring of ’68, before the power of the Red Guards (红卫兵) was overturned in July. The Down to the Countryside Movement (上山下乡运动) would begin that December, ordered by Mao Zedong (毛泽东, who we knew as Mao Tse-tung then) where young intellectuals (including those just graduating from middle school!) were ordered to go to the countryside to “develop their talents to the full” among the rural population. I mention this because my ex-sister-in-law was disappointed that the program was cancelled before she had her turn to be sent out!

19680810 20 Anti-War MarchThe US presidential election campaign was the first one I really paid attention to, especially during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The protests, with the excessive overreaction by the Chicago police, burnt itself into my young impressionable mind.

Protesting was really going into full swing in the US that spring. I can still remember on of the chants very clearly:

Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?

Needless to say, I was somewhat naïve in those days. Back then, I thought that George Wallace was a contender in November’s election, but I knew little of his notorious background as Governor of Alabama. Looking back, I think Hubert Humphrey would have been the better man, but Richard Nixon won. Did he ever:


I have since smartened up when it comes to political prognostication!

Tet Offensive map
Boeing B-52 dropping bombs
The Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War really opened my eyes to what was really happening over there. This was when the battles of Huế and Khe Sanh and Operation Rolling Thunder made the front pages of the papers here, and the reports on the TV news were coming out daily. This is still a topic I haven’t really read up on yet—perhaps doing so earlier could not have been done objectively.

Soyez réalistes, demandez l'impossible

And then there were the French riots in May 1968 (for which a more complete article is found here). Of all the events I’ve noted here, this is the one I know the least about but perhaps one that has had one of the greater impacts. This year, I’ll have to learn more about what it was like to have been a soixante-huitard.

A pleasant surprise…


The weather since Christmas has been quite brutal at times, with sudden swings above freezing at others. The past week saw the sky completely clouded over, and only now has the Sun reemerged to cheer us up once more.

I couldn’t wait that long, and decided to go out for a spin yesterday morning up to Owen Sound, to see the Tom Thomson Gallery. I had never been there before, but Monday’s story in the National Post had me quite intrigued as to their current exhibition relating to the death of Thomson in July 1917. A macabre centennial, which once again raises the question: Was Tom Thomson murdered?

So I consulted Google Maps, which suggested this as the best route:

The roads were snow-covered, but without any suggestion of black ice, all the way to Highway 6 just north of Mount Forest. After that, the way was bare all the way to Georgian Bay.

I spent 1½ hours there. It’s a pleasant, small gallery, and it has work by Thomson I had never seen before, almost all of which has been donated by his relatives. He grew up here, and apparently came back often after he had moved to Toronto. Besides his painting that we are all familiar with, there are also examples of other pencil and pen work, portraits of people and animals, and commercial work from his time at Grip, where he worked with five of the people that eventually formed the Group of Seven in 1920. All of it is quite revealing.

The current exhibition focusing on Thomson’s death, and recent work by forensic artists on the skull from the body found in his ostensibly empty grave in Algonquin Park, was rather fascinating. The artwork was somewhat strange, but the accompanying video was well worth watching.

There was another video exhibit called Floating World, which consists of an art film done as a triptych. No words, but rather eerie music, and strangely fascinating. It has to be seen to be fully appreciated. I gather that Owen Sound has a thriving artistic community, and that must have contributed to the excellence this gallery displays.

The Gallery has free admission, with donations suggested. There is a small gift shop, but not that wide a selection. It’s definitely worth a stop if you’re ever up that way.

The drive back was much smoother, as the roads had almost completely dried off by late afternoon, with the exception of a short stretch through Millbank once I had reentered Perth County. It was a good day.

It was a different world then…


Does anyone remember this picture? If so, you were probably in Montréal in 1967, having the time of your life. I certainly did, and the atmosphere was optimistic everywhere, or so it seemed.

The prices were certainly different:


$1.80? Wow! It appears some things have shot up faster than the rate of inflation!

There are lots of other sites out there that cover expo67 in much greater detail, and Google can take you there very efficiently. I can only talk about impressions gained, which have lasted a lifetime.

I mentioned optimism. It felt like anything was possible then, as we felt when watching this film at the Ontario Pavilion which went on to win an Oscar the following year:

Watch it, and see how much has changed this past fifty years. The film looks as if it’s in need of restoration, which it deserves to have done. When it came out, every Hollywood studio bought a print to show to its executives and producers, in order to show what film could do. The split-screen techniques are still stunning.

The signature tune went on to become quite popular, effectively becoming the provincial anthem for many years. Here’s the full version, with the picture showing the album cover that came with the record:

Somehow, something went missing over the years since then, which is a great pity. The younger generations simply don’t understand what we enjoyed then, and much of it is just not available on the Web for them to tap into.

The 8 November train wreck…

United States presidential election results by county, 2016

Now that was a shock. Pierre Trudeau once said that living next door to the United States is like being a mouse sharing the same bed as an elephant: no matter how little the elephant moves, you can’t help but feel every shift it makes. So it’s only fair to ask, “What the hell just happened?”

If I were a US citizen, I would have voted for Hillary, despite her excess baggage. However, we have to deal with the cards that have been dealt, so let’s analyze why this took place.

The first thing that pops out is that Trump’s victory came from heavy turnout amongst white voters. The New York Times has published a pair of maps showing by county the vote swing to the GOP from 2012 compared with the respective concentration of white people. It closely matches the US Midwest, Rust Belt and the Appalachian region. Some counties did move away to the Democrats, but that was in states where it made no difference. What could have caused this swing to him?

Taking a look at what has been written so far, there are some demographic and economic factors that have come into play:

  • 20% of all men in the US between the ages of 20 and 65 have not had paying work in the last year, and 7 million men between the ages of 25 and 55 are no longer even looking for a job. This is huge, and mostly arose from globalization causing many factories to close in the Midwest, and rural counties in general have gone into economic decline.
  • Baby boomers started reaching retirement age in 2011, and this will continue to roll out until 2028. Aging leads to greater needs for health care, and the Affordable Care Act‘s implementation has been leading to higher insurance premiums, together with the IRS assessing penalties for not having coverage. Since they don’t have Canadian-style coverage, this can become quite expensive.
  • Real per capital disposable incomes have hardly increased since 2007, and income inequality has become extremely pronounced, as noted by a report from the Brookings Institution.
  • The Democrats’ path to success in the last two elections has come from a coalition of minorities, millennials, women, gays and lesbians, especially in the more urbanized states. Advice given this year to that party’s strategists not to ignore the white working class appears to have been ignored.

Now Trump may be an arrogant bastard, but he appears to have been an evil genius in recognizing that the above factors have intersected in making a significant group of voters feel that they have had a raw deal, and that their concerns deserve attention as well. The extremists among this group of voters have led professional politicians to treat them as being racists and misogynists, but that is a superficial analysis that ignores the root causes. Trump appears to have addressed this in a rather outrageous, but still effective, manner.

There are other issues to consider:

  • This campaign has been quite abrasive, which has caused total voter turnout to decline from 2012. Both sides seem to have declined equally, but the distribution of the remaining votes has had significant and varying impact on the different states.
  • The Democrats’ dependence on the more urban areas appears not to have been matched by their ground game, as their decline in turnout appears to have been concentrated there. That was disastrous.

These results will lead to some very interest developments these next few months. Stay tuned.

The campaign is coming to an end…

The UK is finally going to vote on Thursday whether to Leave or Remain in the EU. I prefer them to stay in, but it looks like it might be a very close result.

Unlike here in Canada, the Brits dream up some very intelligent campaign materials. Here is a selection.

For the Leave side

That is a rather nice slogan. Another group has come up with a Leave bumper sticker that is quite well-designed.

For the Remain side


If only we could see stuff like that here!