View Full Version : Old Photos & copyright
Does anyone on the list know what (if any) time limit applies to copyright for old photographs?
rules are different for Canada and the US
Somehwere I have tables for both (they are also online somewhere), I'll see if I can find them
The following does not constitute legal advice:
Anything before 1922 is public domain in the US.
I'm pretty sure in Canada it's 50 years after the death of the person holding the copywrite.
"I'm pretty sure in Canada it's 50 years after the death of the person
holding the copywrite. "
Only for photographic works produced after 1997 (I think it is)
"The general rule is that copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 50 years. Once copyright expires, the work is in the public domain and anyone can make copies for any purpose without permission. After the death of the author, photographer, or mapmaker, permission should be sought from the author's estate. Also, copyright can be transferred or sold. If that has happened, you should seek permission from the owner of the copyright. The duration of copyright for photographs and maps was different until recent amendments to the Canadian Copyright Act. The bottom line is that if the photograph or map was made before 1 January 1954, it is in the public domain. Otherwise the new rule of the life of the photographer, etc. plus 50 years apples."
i.e Copyright for photogaphs in Canada used to be 50 years from the year of the date of creation until 1997 when photography was brought in line with other forms of authorship and it became life+50
(I seem to recall there are a couple of other wrinkles - when I find my which box my copyright manual is in I'll double check - I think to do with unpublsihed works and posthumous publication - because the I am not 100% sure if the papragraph above actually applies to when the work was first created or first published as far as it applies to photogrpahs - when i worked in an archives we ahd a big flow chart to work this out....)
e.g. - from the copyright office
In the case of a work where the identity of the author is unknown, but the work is protected for the life of the author, the copyright subsists for whichever of the following terms ends earlier:
the remainder of the calendar year of the first publication of the work and a period of 50 years after that; or
the remainder of the calendar year of the making of the work and 75 years after that.
These are works which have not been published (or for certain types of works which have not been published nor performed or delivered in public) during the lifetime of the author.
The duration of the copyright in these works depends upon the date of creation of the work. If the work was created after July 25, 1997, the term of copyright protection is the life of the author, the remainder of the calendar year in which the author dies, and for 50 years following the end of the calendar year.
If the work was created before July 25, 1997, then three different scenarios can exist:
First, the author dies, the work is published, performed or delivered prior to July 25, 1997, the copyright lasts for the remainder of the calendar year in which the work was first published, performed or delivered and for 50 years after that.
Second, the author dies during the 50 years immediately before July 25, 1997 and the work has not been published, performed or delivered on July 25, 1997, the copyright lasts until December 31, 1997 (for the remainder of the calendar year in which Bill C-32 comes into force and for 50 years following the end of that calendar year).
Third, the author died more than 50 years immediately before July 25, 1997 and the work has not been published, performed or delivered on July 25, 1997, the copyright lasts until December 31, 1997 (for the remainder of the calendar year in which Bill C-32 comes into force and for five years following the end of that calendar year). "
Bottom line - it may be simple... but not always :-)
See if you can find a copy of Lesley Ellen Harris' "Canadian Copyright Law" at the library (usually inthe refernce section) - I think it has a chapter on this. It's worth looking at as a photographer anyway. It's the best book on the subject
Rule of thumb for the US -
If Mickey Mouse was around when the work was created, then the work is still copywritten today, possibly forever...
Copyright laws were formerly intended to protect the creater of the item, without restricting public use of the material without appropiate compensation to the creater. Now, in the US, they seem to have been changed to protect forever the "intellectual properties" of large corportations. What's new?
Thanks for the replies folks!
The pictures I am interested in are 100 years old so they're probably public domain.
There's a few old west photos I want to turn into Tintypes :-)
Jane, I'd suggest looking at this kind of thing from a practical, rather than legal, point of view.
Lawyers make about ten times (or more) per day what I make. It will consume perhaps five days of their time to handle someone's lawsuit against me. If their side wins, the lawyer's fee is 1/3 of the settlement.
So do the math. I must be able to instantly fork over something like six month's pay (probably more) in a lawsuit to make it worth a lawyer's effort to get involved.
Since my house is protected with a Massachusetts Homestead Declaration and my car is worth only about what I owe on it and since I have no big portfolio of stocks and bonds...
Anyone would have a very, very difficult time convincing a lawyer to go after me for anything.
Poverty has its virtues. ;0)
Bottom line is, it depends whether anyone's been renewing those copyrights--or (wild card) if the copyright was ever taken out. As you gather, this can be a thorny topic, though John's right, in all likelihood it's moot. Before taking any of this as legal advice, acquaint yourself with the history of the photos you want to work with. See if anyone's still concerned about their fate...
But what happens if you have no idea who took the picture or when it was taken. Then who owns what? Seems like everyone just wants owwnership....andmoney ofcourse, do they really want the picture of dead relatives????? Just trying to restore some old memories and running in gliches.
From a practical perspective, there are a couple of things I'd consider if I were in your boots. First, is it possible to determine where the photos were produced (U.S. or Canada), so it's possible to determine which body of law applies? (If produced in the U.S. the recent discussion about copyright and re-publishing may apply.) Second, assuming the images are not well known, what is the likely distribution/circulation/awareness of the tintypes you plan to produce? If the general public awareness of the tintypes is limited, there is less of a risk of being sued if the images aren't public domain, but rather owned by someone interested in pressing the copyright.
This is the flip side of the proposed copyright amendments that our members were howling about in another thread. Congress is proposing to allow the use of photos with no clear ownership by limiting the potential damages if an owner shows up. These amendments address your problem - you would probably be willing to pay a small royality if you made money and an owner showed up, but you do not want to risk the current system where the potential damages for infringement are huge.
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