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Back in high school, our photo class did a lot of assignments molded after great works of the day (or at the least, famous images that we wanted to copy). For example, copying some of Edward Weston's fruit, attempting to portrait after a Rembrandt, or copying something like these from Roy Schatt (These were the first two portraits I ever chose to recreate, others in class chose from other artists):

enter image description here enter image description here

Now, this was obviously for academic purpose, so I don't think any copyright violations were made even by the most accurate of reproductive shots.

Fast forward to last year, and after receiving my wedding photos, my wife and I noticed that our photographer went to the same locations, and even posed us similarly to what other wedding shooters had done before him with their couples.

Now, the question: Is there a point where the copyright of an image is ever violated due to another shooter copying an original idea in a new shot...or is every new shot, no matter how similar to an existing, considered a new work of art?

  • Related: Still-life reconstruction considered plagiarism? – mattdm Sep 19 '18 at 15:04
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    @ the Primarily Opinion Based close voter...can you explain your rationale? I don't understand how a copyright issue can be primarily opinion based. There's a line...somewhere...and I'd like to know where. – Hueco Sep 20 '18 at 4:42
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In the UK (other jurisdictions will vary), it is certainly the case that a "close" reproduction of another photographer's concept infringes copyright. The most important case here is Temple Island Collections Ltd v New English Teas Ltd in which it was ruled that a photographer had infringed an earlier copyright by reproducing the scene of a red London bus driving past the Houses of Parliament, even though the later photo was an entirely separate construction at an entirely separate time.

More details (including low resolution versions of the photos in question) are available at Copyright User.

  • Wow! Those photos don't seem compositionally similar at all. Taken from a different location, with a different angle of view...I find the use of the phrase "substantial portion" to be a bit dubious in this example. "Substantial" doesn't seem to be defined, as far as I can tell. – Hueco Sep 19 '18 at 16:38
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    There were a lot of factors involved in that case. The older work was famous. The infringing work was being used by a major advertising campaign. Both used selective color similarly for the same type of subject. Even then, many experts, including other barristers in England, disagreed with the verdict that seemed to expand copyright protection from the artistic expression of an idea to protecting the idea itself. There are few, if any, corresponding case law examples in other countries in which totally different executions of the same idea have been found to be in violation of copyright. – Michael C Sep 19 '18 at 16:51
  • @Hueco With the binding nature of precedents in the English legal system, Temple Island Collections vs New English Teas is in a very real sense the definition, or at least part of the definition, of "substantial part". While the judgement has definitely been criticised, it stands as binding in English law unless overturned by a higher court (which isn't going to happen now). Of course, the arguments will now just centre around whether the precedent is applicable to any further cases. – Philip Kendall Sep 19 '18 at 22:56

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