The question arose the other day as to whether or not someone can take public-domain photos, use them in an original piece pf art, and then copyright that art piece in the creator's name.
It's an interesting situation with an answer every bit as intriguing. But, first, let me preface this with a statement of fact: "Now, I'm no scientist or medical doctor." Nor, for that matter, an attorney.
However, with that out of the way, my understanding—and the only one that makes sense here—is that you can use copyright-free images anyway you like, which you already know. Toward that end, if you manipulate, combine, or otherwise morph those images into a finished product that's completely different from the copyright-free imagery with which you began, you can copyright your finished creation so that it can't be appropriated legally without your permission.
Think of a photomontage. That's a group of two or more separate photographs joined in some fashion into a single work of art through manipulation of one type or another, often via soft edges, overlapping, multiple exposures, warping the imagery, etc. Although the individual images may be copyright free (and, therefore, nothing you can copyright), if you create a brand new multi-image or manipulated-image creation from those original images, you're entitled to copyright your new work. It's unique, it's exclusively yours, and it can't be used by anyone else for commercial purposes without your authorization. The original public-domain photos would remain in the public domain, of course. You can't assume ownership of them. But you can assume ownership of your original, new creation based upon them. Read More