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I edited the RAW image file that a photographer offered at the /r/EditMyRAW Reddit sub.

I am not familiar with the rights of an editor/retoucher and am curious to know how the editing work/original interpretation counts toward creating something 'new'. With my edit, have I created something materially 'new' to which I now can claim my own (limited?) copyright?

Is this analogy from an answer to another question relevant in this case?

RAW files are just that — unbaked data. You wouldn't go to a bakery and demand that you get the flour, sugar, and eggs with your cake...

Do I have a (if any) right to post my processed version of the photographer's original RAW image without having to request express permission?

  • have I created something materially 'new' - this is a question that depends on multiple factors. Slight retouch seldomly counts as "something materially new", while replacing the whole background and shifting every single color might. – flolilo Sep 25 '18 at 10:07
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    "All RAW files in these threads will be released under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 (See rules in the sidebar.)" – Tetsujin Sep 25 '18 at 10:09
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In general: no rights at all. Somebody posting something on the web doesn't give you a right to edit it. Typical retouching isn't going to count as creating something "materially new" - it would be obvious to a typical person that it's the same photo just tweaked a bit.

However, in this particular case the rules of the subreddit say

All RAW files in these threads will be released under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

so you can take any file posted in that subreddit, edit it and anything else so long as you a) credit the original photographer and b) don't make any money from it. Even without that, it could be argued that posting something saying "please re-touch my image" is giving an implicit permission for people to edit it, but the moderators of that subreddit have sensibly chosen to make the conditions under which that happens explicit.

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    Pedantically, the SA portion of the license also requires condition "c)": distribute the derivative work with the same license as the original. – scottbb Sep 25 '18 at 12:06
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    "Materially different" or "derivative" is something that must be decided on a case by case basis. There are many case law examples in which minor differences were recognized as "Materially different" or "derivative." There are other examples, such as a totally different photograph of the same general subject matter, that have been seen as infringing.You can never say for sure on questions of degree, that is, just how much difference is enough difference, until a court rules on your specific case. – Michael C Sep 25 '18 at 17:24
  • I have chosen your answer to be accepted but since I don't see the subreddit rules posted anywhere on the site, can you show me where you found that line? – Martin Oct 7 '18 at 11:07
  • @Martin It's in the sidebar on the right-hand side of the subreddit itself. You linked to it ;-) – Philip Kendall Oct 7 '18 at 18:58
  • @PhilipKendall I took a look at it again and it doesn't seem to be loading in my browser (Safari). I wonder whether this is an Apple rendering bug? – Martin Oct 9 '18 at 14:55
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I'm not a lawyer; if this extends beyond idle curiosity, go see one.

... have I created something materially 'new' to which I now can claim my own (limited?) copyright?

You've created what's called a derivative work, which means you've used a substantial part of an existing work as the basis for creating something different. The changes -- and only the changes -- are included in the copyright you hold when the dust has settled. For example, if you draw a mustache on a photo of the President of the United States, you hold copyright on the mustache but copyright on the original photo is still held by the photographer.

The hitch is that you must have the right to use the original to create the derivative. If you don't, use of the existing material is unlawful and you receive no protection for the derivative work.

Is this analogy from an answer to another question relevant in this case? ... RAW files are just that — unbaked data. You wouldn't go to a bakery and demand that you get the flour, sugar, and eggs with your cake...

Not really. Even in the other question, it falls short because none of the ingredients of a cake are creative works. More importantly, the ingredients can't be copied: making another of the same cake requires different eggs and flour even if they're turned into a cake the same way. The finished cake may be a creative work, but that's another discussion.

A raw image isn't particularly attractive to view in its unprocessed state, but it does contain data that represents a creative work. It's no different than if you'd published a straight-out-of-the-camera JPEG because you thought it was perfect. If I license a processed image to you, the license only covers that image. The raw is a different work not covered by the license.

Do I have a (if any) right to post my processed version of the photographer's original RAW image without having to request express permission?

For that raw image, yes. As was pointed out elsewhere, anything in /r/EditMyRaw is posted under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. That license give you the right to make and distribute changes as long as its terms are obeyed.

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    I don't think For example, if you draw a mustache on a photo of the President of the United States, you hold copyright on the mustache but copyright on the original photo is still held by the photographer. is right at all. You actually hold copyright on the complete derived work, not just the mustache in abstract. It's just not very useful since copyright on the original prevents you exercising that right, short of some license to do so. – mattdm Sep 25 '18 at 12:37
  • @mattdm From the Copyright Office circular linked in the first paragraph: "The copyright in a derivative work covers only the additions, changes, or other new material appearing for the first time in the work. Protection does not extend to any preexisting material, that is, previously published or previously registered works or works in the public domain or owned by a third party." – Blrfl Sep 25 '18 at 12:40
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    That's just saying that you don't get to exert claims over the existing material on its own. If you make something easily severable (like a new chapter in a book), this makes sense. But in the case of an edit to an image — even adding a mustache, your derivative work is very arguably the whole thing, even the pixels you didn't touch. (The mustache Duchamp drew is only significant in relation to the existing work.) – mattdm Sep 25 '18 at 12:46
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    @mattdm Copyright on the existing material would stand on its own with no need for 17 USC 103(b) to call it out separately. That section prevents rights holders from effectively maintaining copyright forever by creating derivatives. Duchamp started with a public-domain work and, as the rest of the section in the circular says, "copyright in the derivative work will not extend to the public-domain material." If you can cite something in the law that says significance in relation to the existing work matters, I'm open to changing my mind. – Blrfl Sep 25 '18 at 13:50
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    @Blrfl Duchamp also insured that someone else can't "poach" another's work once it becomes PD. That is, they can't claim rights to an original work that is in the PD by using it in a derivative work. They can claim rights to the derivative work in toto, but that does not mean they also have rights to the portions of the original work that they used in their derivative work when they are separated from the derivative work. – Michael C Sep 25 '18 at 17:21

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