Monday, 10 October 2016

That Time Harvard Claimed Copyright On Native American Pottery

When Native American trader Steve Elmore wrote In Search of Nampeyo, The Early Years 1875 - 1892 for the Peabody Museum Press at the behest of Harvard University, little did he know that his intellectual endeavour would turn into a nightmare. Having rejected the book in 2014, Harvard recommended that Mr. Elmore publish elsewhere, so he published the work himself. Then Harvard sued him for infringing the copyright of its photos of the pottery discussed in the book.

The case


Per the court documents, Mr. Elmore offended against the great god Copyright by hiring artists to make colour copies of the pottery works and using them in his book. Even if a case could be made that Harvard owned the designs of the pottery (they don't) this is fair use as he's discussing the images, not selling the images themselves.

On 24th May 2016 Harvard lost the copyright case but the book remained under injunction while they sued for breach of contract. On 30th September 2016 Mr. Elmore and Harvard University reached a settlement.

The terms


  • Neither side pays the other
  • Tip-in: Mr. Elmore has to put a page in each copy of his book in which Harvard alleges that Mr. Elmore broke his contract with Harvard, used images without their permission and that the pictures in the book are a bit dodgy, to say the least
  • His reprinting abilities are hobbled
  • No ebook edition
  • He is bound by the 2010 agreement he made before the book was rejected

Honestly, I'm not sure how much of a favour he did himself by accepting such a massively unfair settlement. And I'm not sure how much of a favour we'd be doing him by buying the book given the trouble he'd have to go to in order to avoid falling foul of the terms.

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