Are archaeological symbols from ancient times subject to copyright law?

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Are archaeological symbols from ancient times subject to copyright law?

I am a graphic designer and have developed a series of “Digital Amulets”, which are Graphical Wallpapers and Screen-Savers, based on ancient Archeological findings (dating from 200 to 2000 years ago). I viewed these findings in a Museum and bought the Museums Book. I then re-designed the ancient symbols and designs to make them more Modern and colorful. I am now planning on selling them online. Is there any breach of copyright in this case? I see it as no one really has copyright claims over ancient designs.

Asked on October 21, 2010 under Business Law, Minnesota

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

No, ancient symbols would not be subject to either copyright or trademark. You simply need to be careful that you have not been influenced by any graphical elements or any interpretations or reconstructions done by the museum or their publisher. For example, say that one of the symbols was broken when found; if someone when extrapolated from it to  produce a whole version, since that whole version is the fruit of modern creative endeavor, it could theoretically be someone's intellectual property. However, to the extent you are drawing only from the ancient originals, you'd be ok. To use an analogy: Thor. Thor is the ancient Norse god of Thunder. Marvel Comics has created a popular character named Thor. Other comic book companies have their own thunder gods named Thor, too. As long as they do not style theirs to look like Marvel Comic's version or interpretaton of Thor, that's fine, since there is no copyright or trademark in the name Thor, in his ancient description or attributes, or in the ancient symbols (like his hammer) associated with him. However, if another comic book company tried to put out a long-haired blond Thor wearing a blue cape, then they'd run into trouble, because that would be based on the Marvel interpretation.


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