BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Robin Luchko

Antique photos...who has the rights?

I collect old photographs of people. Most are late 1800's early 1900's. I do not know who any of them are, most are purchased at auctions and yard sales. My question is can I reproduce them for sale? My first thought is a release form, but how would ever happen? I was told as long as they are pre 1920 something its ok...something like public domain. Does anyone know anything about this area?

To love this question, log in above
1/19/2006 3:34:25 PM

Brendan Knell
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/17/2005
  It depends on when it was copyrighted. If it was longer than 100years(maybe it's 200, but I don't think so) ago, then I think that it would be fair game. Unless whoever now owns the copyright has renewed it, then it would go the 100 years from that date. Also what do you mean by "reproduce them for sale"? Scan them up and print them out and sell them again? Keep in mind that I don't know tons about copyright, so this might be completley wrong, but if it is, I know that someone else can correct me.

To love this comment, log in above
1/19/2006 3:41:11 PM

Kerry L. Walker   Copyright on a photograph is valid for 75 years after the death of the photographer. Of course, the chances of finding the original photographer (or his or her heirs) are probably slim to none.

To love this comment, log in above
1/20/2006 7:52:28 AM

Robin Luchko   Well most of the pictures are near 100 years old so I would assume that the person that took them or is in them have passed on. They are mostly snapshots but they depict an era long gone and I have sold some of my origonals, but figured I could sell reproductions and keep them for myself. Can anyone suggest a place wher I could look something like that up. The lawyer I spoke to said they since everyone was long dead not to worry. ( that piece of help only cost $150.00) Since he wasn't a photographer I figured I better ask people who may know a little more in the area.

To love this comment, log in above
1/20/2006 11:05:30 AM

Sean Ronters   But, see here:

Unpublished, Unregistered Works:

Before 1978, if a work had been neither "published" in the legal sense nor registered in the Copyright Office, it was subject to perpetual protection under the common law. On January 1, 1978, all works of this kind, subject to protection by copyright, were automatically brought under the federal copyright statute. The duration of copyright for these works can vary, but none of them will expire before December 31, 2002.

The 1998 Sonny Bono Act froze and extended copyright protection to all unpublished works whose copyright had not already expired under prior Acts (1909, 1976).

Works Originally Created on or after January 1, 1978:

A work that is created (fixed in tangible form for the first time) on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author's life plus an additional 70 years after the author's death. In the case of "a joint work prepared by two or more authors who did not work for hire," the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author's death. For works made for hire, and for anonymous and pseudonymous works (unless the author's identity is revealed in Copyright Office records), the duration of copyright will be 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

Works Originally Created before January 1, 1978, But Not Published or Registered by That Date:

These works have been automatically brought under the statute and are now given federal copyright protection. The duration of copyright in these works will generally be computed in the same way as for works created on or after January 1, 1978: the life-plus-70 or 95/120-year terms will apply to them as well. The law provides that in no case will the term of copyright for works in this category expire before December 31, 2002, and for works published on or before December 31, 2002, the term of copyright will not expire before December 31, 2047.

To love this comment, log in above
1/20/2006 2:30:25 PM

Log in to respond or ask your own question.