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Hi all I was wondering if anyone has insight on copyright issues of images that are derived from formulas like "color wheels" etc.

I would like to ask if images like these are in the public domain:

Fig 1. "Equal-step" gradient graph

enter image description here

Fig 2. Color wheel graph of sin(1/z)

enter image description here

Who own the rights to these images (which could be generated by any computer by applying the right "formula") ?

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The concepts of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idea-expression_divide and the merger doctrine would seem to apply here. –  Sean Oct 29 '11 at 23:25
@Sean I'm not sure how does it apply here. Afterall, if sin(1/z) is the "idea" and not the "expression", then with that "idea" anyone would derive the same and equal "expression" –  Pacerier Oct 31 '11 at 15:04

1 Answer 1

The creator of the image is the copyright owner. But, there are a few tricks.

  1. If a program can be used to create the image, and does so in a completely automatic manner, then the creator of the program owns the copyright.
  2. If some work is needed to create the artwork, then the person who did the work to create the image owns it. (Think, if a person draws a picture in photoshop, they own it). In this case, if a person creates a cool formula to create the image, then they would own it.
  3. If a person can generate an image on their own that looks similar, they they own it.

Of the two images, I'd say the first one is generic enough that many people no doubt have created a similar image, and it would be fairly safe to use.

The second shows some real creativity. Anyone who could create the right formula could own the copyright to the image they generated. If a person finds a similar formula, then they own the copyright to produce their new image.

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But who owns the copyright to the formula sin(1/z) ? Is the formula part of an expression or part of an idea? –  Pacerier Oct 31 '11 at 15:04
I'm guessing for such a simple formula, there isn't anyway to force a copyright question out of it. It's just too difficult for a one-liner to decide. But the image that results from the formula would be copyright by the person who generated it. Of course, multiply generated images would lead to the same essential image being copyright by multiple people... –  PearsonArtPhoto Oct 31 '11 at 15:31
yes this is generally what i'm confused about. if the same formula is used, different people will essentially generate the exact same image, and that image is copyrighted by multiple people... –  Pacerier Nov 1 '11 at 8:37
Substitute formula for recipe, and you have a cooking analog. One might find parts to the recipe, and even successfully reproduce it mostly, but unless they have the exact recipe, then they won't be violating copyright. But a very simple recipe would be beyond any copyright, such as putting flour on chicken to bread it. –  PearsonArtPhoto Nov 1 '11 at 14:15

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