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Copyright, Fair Use and Baseball Cards

Dear ASK Harriete, 

I like to make collages. I have a ton of sports cards I'm trying to get rid of.  If I take the player out of a sports card (several different cards with the same player let's say) and make a collage and then sell the collage along with the cards I used to make the collage is this an infringement of some kind of copyright?  Baseballcards-00001 I know some people put several cards together and sell them as a collage but I only want to use the player portion of each card with a different background and, as I said, would include in the sale the exact cards I take the player from along with the collage photo.  


Batty about Baseball Cards

Dear Who's On First;

Creating collage for personal consumption or within a classroom for educational purposes is fair use expression under copyright law.    Selling, exhibiting or publishing a collage as your artwork may not be fair use if it is an obvious derivative of the original and competes with the commercial purpose of the copyright holder.

However, your situation seems a lot simpler since there has been a long tradition of third-party buying, trading, and reselling sports cards.  The copyright holder (the original printer of the baseball cards) has accepted the practice of reselling cards.  You legally own the cards and have chosen to resell your cards, perhaps in a cropped or modified form.  It is likely that you could not obtain a copyright for your collage of the baseball cards, but you are not infringing on the original copyright owner either.  This is especially true if the cards are over 75 years old. Consequently, in this particular case, I don't see a problem.  Go for it! 

Baseball album For most collage artists, I would suggest reviewing the Fair Use Guidelines that I posted in May 2009.  If you expect to exhibit or sell your collage, then you need to pay attention to fair use criteria.  A collage of images from public media, even from purchased media, is not guaranteed to be fair use. 

Fair use does allow quite a wide range of expression, however, I encourage artists to develop their own voice, artistic vision, or commentary within their art or collage.  A crucial element of fair use is the extent of transformation.  Just cutting images and pasting them together isn’t really adding that much artistic contribution or transformation.  It would be better within the concept of fair use and artistic integrity if the collage made some larger statement such as (and these are just a few baseball-related examples):

  • A commentary about celebrity

  • Super-hyped salaries of athletes

  • Marketing and consumerism of sports


This post was updated on December 27, 2021.