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Posts Tagged ‘A New Deal for the Arts’

WPA Murals, Part 2: Frustration

Posted by Laurie Frost on September 12, 2009

These first two murals can be found at  A New Deal for the Arts, an online exhibit at the National Archives.southern_illinois (MO 56-331) FDR Library, NARA

History of Southern Illinois. By Paul Kelpe, Illinois Federal Art Project, WPA, ca. 1935-39 Gouache.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, National Archives and Records Administration (MO 56-331)electrification

Electrification. By David Stone Martin, Treasury Section of Fine Arts, 1940, Tempera on cardboard. Fine Arts Collection, General Services Administration (FA4703)

Dozens of  the 2,500 or so  murals executed under the auspices of the Federal At Project and Works Progress Administration can be found online.

Now you know if you’ve followed this blog that I have been careful to make sure that those images I present as public domain are from sites where their status is unambiguously presented and no permission is required for personal, educational, and research purposes, or for commercial ones, which is in fact what public domain is all about.

My understanding is that a work is either in the public domain, or it is not. It is not in the public domain for some purposes and not in the public domain for others.

Consider the absence of qualifications in this definition from “Glossary of Intellectual Property Terms,” taken from the U.S. Department of State publication, “Focus on Intellectual Property Rights,” as posted on

PUBLIC DOMAIN [general intellectual property]. The status of an invention, creative work, and commercial symbol that is not protected by any form of intellectual property law. Items in the public domain are available for free copying and use by anyone.

I can’t see how WPA murals can be anything but public domain. But I found myself up against a complication here. Simply digitizing a photo adds nothing to it, but taking a photo of a mural, while adding nothing new, does take skill, so  there may well be a good argument that although the subject of the photo–the mural– is in the public domain, the photo itself should not be so considered.

Fair enough, unless the mural was photographed by a Federal employee during work hours. Then it seems to me that the image should be in the public domain.

So it was with great frustration that I tried to make sense of the restrictions posted on The New Deal Network. There are all kinds of resources on this site, including a number of pictures of WPA murals. But each page includes a copyright notice and this:

Materials on this site may be used without permission for educational, non-commercial purposes, such as classroom distribution, student reports, etc. However, credit should be given to the New Deal Network. Lesson plans may be used without permission.

The New Deal Network (NDN) was created by the Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt Institute (FERI),

with the assistance of IBM, Marist College, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, and continued its development in cooperation with the Institute for Learning Technologies at Columbia University from 1997 to 2001. NDN was developed with a grant from the NEH.

So it isn’t entirely federally funded.

This is NDN’s  statement on permissions:

Personal or Educational Use

Permission is NOT required to use photos or documents for educational purposes such as classroom distribution, school reports and projects, etc.

Commercial Publishing Use

The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute does not hold copyrights on any of the materials from other sources republished on the New Deal Network website; therefore we cannot grant permission to use these materials. In cases where the items are copyrighted and the NDN received permission to use them, there will be a copyright or permissions statement indicating the copyright holder. In those instances, to obtain permission to reprint the materials, please contact the copyright holder listed.

If no such copyright holder is noted the item is most likely in the public domain, but we cannot guarantee that. It is the responsibility of the user to research the copyright status of the item. Please contact the listed Publisher or Owner of the item to obtain copyright information.

and this is FERI‘s:

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Library provides prints from its files for reference purposes only. Permission to use photographs credited to commercial sources must be obtained from the copyright owner. No permission is needed to use those photographs in the public domain. The Library also has many photographs for which the rights owner is not known, although the staff has made an effort to determine the rights possessor. The responsibility for publication of these photos rests with the user. The Library would appreciate a courtesy line for the use of those photos in the public domain and those for which the copyright owner is unknown, e.g. “Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum, Hyde Park, New York.”

What I don’t understand is why, when the source for an image of a WPA mural on NDN is identified as the National Archives, and the National Archives identifies an image of a comparable WPA mural as having no use restrictions, the same status doesn’t apply over at NDN.

Let’s compare data from the National Archives for The Marian Anderson Mural by Mitchell Jamieson at the Interior Department Building in Washington, D.C. (ARC Identifier 195952) [shown below]:

Part Of: Series: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Public Domain Photographs, compiled 1882 1962

Access Restriction(s): Unrestricted

Use Restriction(s): Unrestricted

and that for 1939 World’s Fair Mural, over at New Deal Network [not shown]:

Location: NY

Agency: FAP

Credits: Fogel, Seymour (Artist)

Owner: National Archives and Records Administration

Medium: Mural

Use of this Image: Permission is not required to copy or print this image for personal or educational use such as school projects, classroom distribution, etc.

Click here to request permission to reprint this image in a commercial book, publication, or website, or for other commercial uses such as advertising or exhibits, or to request information on ordering a print.

See what I mean?

27-0807aLinks to other sites with pictures WPA murals but that aren’t noted as available for unrestricted use, i.e. public domain:

Chicago Conservation Center

List of Links to On-Line Exhibits at wpamurals

Harlem hospital murals

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