As a follow-up/clarification to this question, I would like to ask with a little bit more detail.
There are several groups of "ancient" manuscripts and inscriptions which I would like for this to take into account. Here is a list of some of them:
- Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs (>3000 years old)
- Ancient Olmec Inscriptions (>3000 years old)
- Ancient Mayan Glyphs
- Ancient Aztec Glyphs
- Old English Manuscripts (>1000 years old)
- Old Runic Inscriptions (>1000 years old)
- Old Irish Manuscripts (>1000 years old)
- Ancient Chinese Manuscripts (>1000 years old)
- Ancient Chinese Inscriptions (>3000 years old, like the oracle bone)
- Ancient Latin Manuscripts (>1000 years old)
- Ancient Greek Manuscripts (>1000 years old)
- Etc. There are many other cultures such as Finnish, Tibetan, etc.
Some of these are owned by places like the Catholic Church, others by places like the British Library, or other Libraries or Museums, even others are held by Universities, and still others are held by private individuals who may post an image online of the artifact for a variety of reasons, like this person did. Also, some artifacts may have been created in one place (like in China), but hosted in another place (like at the British museum).
So the question is about looking at an online image of one of these artifacts, which is provided by one of the owners, and then either drawing a picture to replicate the object (like the image below), or copying it into text form, such as this, which was transcribed from an image of a manuscript, into electronic text.
Specifically, all of the things I am talking about are pre-copyright era, the actual objects themselves. So then someone finds/discovers the item (either they found it pre-copyright era, like 1000+ years ago finding something and putting it in the king's library), or it was discovered post-copyright-starting era. So somebody owns it. I am not concerned with that part. But then they take a picture of it and put it online. Some of the pictures (like the reddit image) are just quickly shot with an iPhone. Others require significant cost, care, and tooling, such as taking a picture of a fragile ancient manuscript, while others require that much cost/care/tooling to startup, but then can be automated for thousands or millions of artifacts (like the Google books project). But in the end, an image of a natural, copyright-free artifact (since it was created pre-copyright era) is online and publicly available.
What you see in this situation often is "this image is copyrighted". To me that means that you can't directly sell the image, or host it on your site/product for commercial gain. But given the content of the image is in the public domain (again, the content from all those cultural resources listed at the beginning) because it was created thousands of years ago, I wonder what you are allowed to do with the image.
I wonder if you are allowed to:
- Make a drawing of it (like the sketch below).
- Transcribe the text contained in the original document (which you could see because of the copyrighted image).
Obviously the drawing wouldn't be a straight copy of the photograph. It would draw the essence of the content instead. So the content is public domain, but the image is copyrighted and the artifact is owned. I wonder if you are allowed to essentially write down in electronic form what is in the manuscript artifact, or in the case of glyphs, to write down the glyphs.
What this would mean is that one could go to a museum website and view their manuscripts, and transcribe them, and then do what you want with the transcription. If that's not allowed, I would be interested to know the reason.