Is my background picture a violation of Copyright law?

Please bear with me. Those who have read my posts before might know I am prone to worrying about these kinds of things…

I took a Philosophy of Religion course last semester and we used this book as one of our required texts. Well, like most books, it has the copyright statement “No part of this publication may be reproduced etc.”

Exceptions include things like private study and critical review.
I don’t imagine online bookstores violate copyright by having displaying images of the book, because the likelihood is they have permission as distributors.

Well, last semester, one day that I was at my desk and had the book laying there, I grabbed by little leopard (stuffed animal, had him for years) and placed him laying down on top of the cover of the book, positioned in such a way so that it appears his head is leaning on his paw, and he is contemplating the relationship between “Faith and Reason” (the title of the book). I set the picture as my background on my phone. The picture is meant to be both an amusement for me and a symbol. I happen to adore it but now I am concerned that by “reproducing” the cover I have violated the law?

Not even the whole cover is shown on the picture, just the top part of it (the body of my little leopard is covering the bottom part of the cover).

Am I sinning? (we’re required to abide by the laws of our countries/international agreements)

And yes I am serious. I’m finding that copyright law is a great occasion for scrupulosity.


I very much doubt you are sinning by having this as your phone background. No lawyer is going to waste a second of their time coming after your phone background picture. If you are that worried about it either delete it or just avoid sharing it online.

I am curious as to why this seems to be an issue but using the Pillsbury Doughboy, which is no doubt copyrighted, as your avatar picture does not give the same concerns.

I don’t know what the copyright statement itself said, but very often those statements themselves are in fact a false representation of copyright which is itself illegal. But the law was made to punish average people not media publishers. For instance the book may include a quote from a book that is itself out of copyright. You could under the law use that part of the book with no restriction.

In my opinion absolutely not. Just because a law exists does not make it right. Copyright law is a strange concept in that it is based on the idea a man can own an idea. If copyright were more broadly applied then a man could own the concept of something like stir fry, or potato salad. That seems bizarre to me. The length of copyright is completely arbitrary. It went from being a few decades to over several lifetimes. If copyright law keeps you from enjoying life because you can’t take a picture of something you own then the law is itself wrong.

I got the Pillsbury doughboy picture from the internet, though I don’t remember the link ( it was on Google images anyway). Admittedly I don’t give as much thought to images found online because of the sheer number of them and since I don’t know which precise are not allowed to be reproduced/redistributed. Now that you bring it up though, I should probably email the company, it would be a brief question.

I can tell you this much though. One day I emailed a man who works for a business that makes custom designed shirts, and I sent him an email asking if I could order a shirt that bears the Pillsbury Doughboy identical to an image of him I found online, and I believe I included the pic in the attachment.

His response:

We can’t reproduce the pillsbury dough boy on anything without their permission… if they had a thing on their website that said “use this template to make your own customer dough boy art” we could do that… but I can’t imagine they allow that to be done. Trademark / copyright is very stingy, and while I doubt we’d get caught, the consequences start at $25,000 and go up (since they know most don’t get caught).

Now something that’s a parody / joke, redrawn to inspire the idea of without copying their original files/work can be done… like this:

which would technically violate PBS’ property and pillbury property is not infringement since the art was redrawn, not derivative, and the concept is meant to be satire, not to damage the brand or confuse the consumer.

But I wonder if the reason they can’t do this is because they would be making a profit off of it.
I think though, I would be allowed to make my own custom shirt, say using fabric markers, of the Pillsbury doughboy. I’ve been wanting to have such shirt for a long while.


Imagine just for the heck of it that some legal charges were pressed against me and I was arrested. I don’t know if if would cry, or laugh, or both.

Anyways, I am reminded of a dialogue between two poets that I once read. It was during the Transcendentalist movement, and America was in moral distress, and one of the poets was in favor of civil disobedience. I think the men in question were Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. One was in prison, and his poet friend went to visit him at his cell. The friend asked him “What are you doing in there?”, and the other replied “What are *you *doing out there?”

I am not a lawyer. But…

From my understanding, in this particular situation, what you are describing would fall under the very broad category of ‘personal use’. Let me give a more concrete example.

Here is a nice font, available for personal use only.

One could make a signature for forum usage, use it in a Facebook cover, or even make a t-shirt (for one’s personal wear!) without violating those terms.

It’s only when one wishes to use the font in a commercial setting (e.g. using it in a layout that was paid for, or in a logo) that the legality is brought into question. In the context of fonts, this is generally not an issue; one simply seeks out the font’s designer, pays the licensing fee (if any; some creators are quite giving with their fonts if you ask), and continues using the font as needed.

By my understanding of copyright law in general, this same principal applies to most things. You may not be able to license all things like you can with most fonts, but the sense of personal vis a vis public usage is the same.

Having an image of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck on your cell phone is different than having it plastered on the wall of your daycare.

Given this example of what personal usage entails, I’d say you are well within your legal rights. Especially when you take into consideration the fact that this picture is the wallpaper on your cell phone; something only you and maybe a handful of other people will likely ever see.

I think that Pillsbury will certainly come after you and do their best to take all the dough you got! :cool:

I’m no lawyer. But I do believe people who have songs in the background of YouTube videos are violating copyright. Having a video of people singing happy birthday would also be a problem.

Again I’m no lawyer but I thought fonts were a somewhat tricky area. I thought you could not copyright fonts but you can copyright the computer file that describes the font. In my opinion IP is just a tangled mess of nonsense.


So . . .

First, I am a lawyer.

Second, the OP use would come under the “Fair Use” exception to copyright laws. Therefore, NOT a violation.

Third, IP is not a “tangled mess of nonsense” but I can see how someone who either lacks the proper legal education or who wants something for nothing (Theft) might think so.

Ah, I’m not educated enough to understand it or a immoral person? No, actually I understand it pretty well. Certainly I don’t understand the ins and outs of IP law, but who does? Not even most lawyers. IP is not theft. It does not deprive anyone of anything save a supposed income stream based on monopoly rights. It is not that I want something for nothing it is that I don’t think a person has the right to own ideas.

No, it isn’t. You’re not making a penny off it, and if anything, Pillsbury is gaining some guerilla marketing from it! You’re not claiming it as your own, nor are you attempting to create brand confusion. Don’t worry about it.

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