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                             you are just a stupid
                             infringement of copyright!
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  Copyright: ->  General notes, The Collection, My Pictures

General Notes on Copyright and ASCII Art

First the summary: Almost all ASCII art is somehow protected by copyright laws. In other words, you can copy ASCII pictures for personal use, like for enhancing your private emails, but if you want to use ASCII art for non-personal affairs (e.g. publications, books, web portals, or README files of software packages) you need the explicit permission of the creator must follow certain rules (see below for fair use). Please do not confuse copyright with `trademark'. The latter is about money, and has to be registered and defended, whereas copyright is about `control' and does not require any action by an author to own and keep the copyright for his or her work.

Next the disclaimer: Of course this subject is complicated and may be different for many special cases. And naturally I cannot give you any legal advice, but only my understanding of the documents about copyright law I have read. A lot of online information is available: What I found most interesting was the Copyright Basics from the U.S. Copyright Office; easier to understand, however, are the 10 Big Myths about copyright. In the following I attempt to discuss some issues that are important for ASCII art. I try to concentrate on the general idea, not mentioning possible exceptions like special country dependent diversities of other copyright laws.

What is copyright and why is it an issue for ASCII art?

Copyright is a protection mechanism for authors of certain intellectual work, including artistic work. The author as the owner of copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce, publish or perform his or her work, as well as to authorise reproduction etc. by other persons. This means I can decide what is done with my work.

ASCII art can, of course, somehow be considered as `artistic work'; but is this also true in the legal sense? To my knowledge, there hasn't been any law suit concerning copyright of ASCII art, so there is room for speculations. In my opinion it's easy enough to get an idea by comparing ASCII art to other material where copyright questions have been discussed and cleared in courts.

Is it just a scribble or a piece of art? For some pictures, this might be difficult to decide. The question of whether something is `art' is not for me to answer. I have never really understood neither the concept nor the business of art. Anyway, that question (at least in this form) is not connected to the copyright issue. To be protected by copyright, I think, an ASCII art picture has to be original and must have some `substance'. Substance might mean the amount of work needed to accomplish the picture or the fact that the picture is part of a larger series of works by the artist. Well, it might actually be many different things. Some `official' guidelines do exist. For example, the U.S. copyright law states that pictorial or graphic work is protected; but at the same time `mere variations of typographic ornamentation' are not. It's easy to see that a smiley :) will surely not be protected. On the other hand, it is hard to believe that more complex and expertly drawn ASCII pictures like, for example, Joris Bellenger's statue could be called something like `mere variations of ornamentation'.

`But it's only a bunch of characters!' Yes, why not? The essence of ASCII art is reduction, just as it is (very often) for poems or computer algorithms. It is impossible to make a proper definition of what is original and `artistic' and what is not - but the fact that ASCII art makes a small measure in Bytes and is commonly displayed on a computer screen doesn't make a difference. I think poetry and computer algorithms are very good examples for the fact that also a few characters in a special arrangement can be the result of a significant intellectual effort and have an impact on society.

International copyright

There is no such thing as international copyright. Instead, copyright is part of national law in many countries. But most of these countries have, in one way or the other, worked out agreements to protect works created in other countries. When you draw a picture while living in France, for example, and your picture is somehow used (shown, copied, etc.) in the U.S., then the relevant law would be the U.S. copyright law. From official documents you can learn that Iraq, for example, had reached no agreement on copyright with the U.S. as of May 1999. But in general protection for original art is rather well established on this little planet.

Fair use

Control by the author over his or her work is not unlimited. The backside of unlimited control would be that the restrictions for copying could very well slow down development in science, culture and society in general. To avoid a complete stand-still, the concept of `fair use' gives you the right to copy (use) something even though the owner of the copyright did not give you the permission to do so. The tricky bit is to determine when exactly `fair use' can be assumed. The copyright laws of the U.S., for example, states that when considering whether a certain act is an infringement of copyright or `fair use', the following factors should (also) be considered:
  • the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or for nonprofit educational purposes;
  • the nature of the copyrighted work;
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
Unfortunately, this does not give clear guidelines about how exactly these factors are to be considered. But with a bit of common sense and care, it should be possible to stay on the right side, I believe.

Isn't there anything free

Not much, I'm afraid. But copyright is not necessarily against freedom, it is one of those laws that draw borderlines between the different personal freedoms, so that hopefully everyone gets a share. The best example for how copyright can be used to support freedom is probably the copyleft concept of the Free Software Foundation.

The Collection

Having carefully read the above, you may wonder about my collection of ASCII art pictures. What about the copyright here? Well, I do have the explicit permission of some artist. Other people have made statements (e.g. on their web pages) about when and how their pictures could be copied. In those cases, I follow these statements. The `old' pictures, however, pose a problem. Usually, ASCII artists come and go frequently, which means that I don't know where to ask for permissions. For those pictures (and others for which I don't know the creator's opinion about this web site), I claim that including the pictures in my collection is fair use. Why that?
  • First, my aim is to provide a well maintained archive of ASCII pictures. In many online forums, ASCII art is posted with no or even false credits so that it is sometimes very hard to know who was the original artist. Much of my time is spend on research on this issue, so that my archive can be used as a kind of reference. There are, of course, still many pictures without credits (or with false ones). If you find one of those and have some information about it, please let me know!
  • Second, my site is non-commercial. In fact, I am paying money for the bandwidth because I understand `non-commercial' literally. That means I do not think any banner or other advertising for commercial products would be sensible. Since I do not like banners anyway and the costs are not high, this is not a problem.
  • Third, I fear that there is not much commercial value in ASCII art, so that my site will not cause problems for anybody's money.
Nevertheless, I do not intend to act against the wishes of the creators of ASCII art pictures. If I have one of your ASCII pictures in my collection that should not be available in this form, please let me know and I will remove it immediately.

Copyright Notice: My Pictures, Texts and Web Pages

All ASCII art pictures marked with my initials (a:f) are created by me. You may freely copy and distribute these ASCII art pictures for non-commercial purposes only. Especially you should not charge fees or request donations for any such ASCII art picture (or in connection with it) without the author's written permission. No other rights connected to the ASCII art pictures, such as ownership rights, are transferred.

The collection of ASCII art pictures, the text on these pages and the web design may not be copied for non-personal use without the author's written permission. I also urge you not to mirror the collection for personal use. This site has a certain bandwidth limit per month and excessive mirroring can force me to discontinue the site. And - be assured that if I ever close this collection I will take care that it will be available for download well in advance.

Note: All other ASCII art pictures (not marked with a:f) were created by other people and are subject to different copyright conditions. Please ask the original artist before copying any picture for non-personal use! For locating the artist, please check my Who is Who. Or if you need help in contacting ASCII artists, feel free to ask me!

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