Printing and Exhibiting Someone Else's Work

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Alex Hawley, Jan 19, 2007.

  1. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    My parents were both avid photographers when I was growing up. Some of their work won competitions in regional art fairs some fifty years ago. Since they have both passed on, I now have their negatives and have been printing some of them as time allows.

    I have been thinking about possibly exhibiting and offering for sale the best of these. I know this would be out of the question if it was work done by someone completely uconnected with me. Wouldn't even give it a thought. However, since the photographers were my parents and I have entirely legal posession of the negatives, what ethical questions would this raise? I would give due credit to them, only taking credit for the printing.

    I know the Westons did this, but we are not the Weston family nor was their any will granting me permission. I don't think either of my parents ever thought of such a thing happening.
     
  2. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Alex;

    My uncle was a Brooks graduate and a great photographer. He has given me the rights to all of his work. When I told him that I posted the Christmas picture, he was very pleased that I had done so.

    OTOH, Grant Haist gave me some of his unprocessed trannies and I feel although I don't know how to handle that, I certainly don't have any rights even though he said "do with them what you will".

    So, there are some shades of gray, some blacks and some whites here. IDK, but if I were you, I would feel comfortable as long as the pictures were credited properly. I did that in the case of my Uncle's picture and 2 others taken by friends that I posted.

    PE
     
  3. resummerfield

    resummerfield Subscriber

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    It sounds like a very nice idea. Your parents would be proud!
     
  4. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Alex:

    This is a question involving estate law, and copyright law. I practise estate law in British Columbia, but not of course in Kansas.

    If the negatives and any associated copyright interests are still in your parents' estates (i.e. you did not inherit them from your parents) then it is a question of estate law.

    The question may turn as well on where your parents resided at the time of their death - generally that question is relevant to the question of what law applies to a deceased person's estate, and any "moveables" involved.

    Assuming that the law is the same as in British Columbia, than it is the person or persons who have the legal authority to deal with your parents' estates (the executors) who can give permission (or not). The personal and ethical issues would, I would suggest, follow closely after that. I would give credit to the estates themselves, and enter into an agreement with those estates, whereby net proceeds (after a fair allowance to you for your efforts) go to them.

    If the negatives and copyrights came to you as part of your inheritance, than they are yours to deal with as you see fit. Again, I would suggest that the personal and ethical issues would follow the legal ones. Print them and credit them as being part of the collection of negatives that came to you, with so much else, as a surviving son of your parents. Any $ would be yours to keep.

    As usual, I would suggest discussing this with a lawyer versed in the law of your jurisdiction or (if the estates are still the owners) the applicable jurisdiction.

    As a photographer and a son of a photographer (who thankfully is still among us), I know that my father would trust me to do the right thing. I would suggest that, at least with respect to the ethical and personal issues, your "gut feelings" are the ones to be trusted too.

    Matt
     
  5. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Matt, thank you for your learned opinion. There is no estate involved nor any wills. I am an only child so there are no siblings. No copyrights were ever filed that I have ever been aware of. I believe I would have remembered it if they were. Two photos were published in a magazine, again, quite literally fifty years ago. The magazine was a small specialty one centered around hunting dogs. I doubt that it is still in business.
     
  6. Jim Noel

    Jim Noel Member

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    I don't believe you would have any problems. I assume you would credit your parents with the negatives and you as printer. Cole Weston did this for years following the death of his father Edward.
     
  7. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Alex:

    It is probably the case (under Kansas law) that, as an only child, you are entitled to inherit these negatives and the associated copyright. As I said above, I don't know about Kansas, because I don't practise there.

    The issue about copyright is also specific to your jurisdiction, but that may very well be a question of federal jurisdiction, rather than state jurisdiction (again, this is outside my area of knowledge - possibly some US members can chime in here). Most importantly, the issue of copyright applies to all the negatives. The published images are the exception, not the rule.

    More importantly (and generally), if you adress your mind to those legal issues (i.e. ensure that you actually own the negatives and the copyright associated with them), then you can make the rest of your decisions based on what your instincts tell you is right - and those instincts are likely to be the best guide of all, because they were your parents.

    Printing those negatives sounds like a tribute to your parents. Unless there is a very good reason not to, I'd say "go for it". Although cynics might disagree, I suspect that the applicable law would encourage such a tribute - the law may be flawed, but it does tend to support what one might tend to find valuable in life.

    I don't know how learned this is, but I sure hope it helps.

    Matt
     
  8. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    Alex, I have not practiced law in many years and did not practice in Kansas, but what Matt outlined is generally the law of estates in most of the US - not unusual since both the US and Canada inherited estate law from England.

    The issue of copyright is one of Federal law, which has changed significantly over the years. There may or may not still be a copyright on the photographs, depending on just when they were made. Under copyright law, a photographer creates a copyright simply by making the image. Filing has nothing to do with the existence of a copyright, however filing does control how a court would treat a claim for infringement. At any rate, I would strongly suspect that you have inherited any copyrights owned by your parents.

    I have never researched this, but it might be possible for you to claim a copyright on new prints of old negatives - claiming that printing itself is a significant creative activity.

    If you had the assistance of a lawyer in settling your parents' estates, I would think a call to the lawyer's office would answer the question of ownership of the negatives. Otherwise a brief conference with a lawyer who specializes in estates should answer the question. I suspect the answer is very simple - that you have full ownership of the images.
    juan
     
  9. Moopheus

    Moopheus Subscriber

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    My experience with copyright law comes from working in book publishing, not specifically with photography, but some aspects of copyright law apply to all works. According to the law, the rights of deceased authors pass to their surviving spouses and/or children. (Some families do assign executors to manage estates, but the executors do not _own_ the rights).

    A tricky question that I do not have a clear answer to (and an experienced copyright lawyer might) is whether pictures printed and exhibited 50 years ago would be considered "published" within the meaning of the law. In which case the copyrights may be considered to have expired before the 1978 extensions went into effect. Possibly you could register the copyrights of the previously unshown work.

    But essentially it boils down to either a) You own the rights to the photos for a period of 70 years after your parents death, or b) the rights have expired. In either case, you would be perfectly free to print and exhibit the work, or even arrange to have it published, if there were interest along those lines.
     
  10. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Many thanks guys for helping out on this. :smile:
     
  11. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    As far as the personal ethical issues go, I agree that this would be a great tribute to your parents' work and their experience, and there wouldn't seem to be anyone else to do it, so I don't see any objections on those grounds. If your parents were cranky about letting other people print their negatives for aesthetic reasons like Brett Weston, you would probably know that, and you would probably have a nice set of fine prints to display, and wouldn't have any interest in the negatives.
     
  12. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    No David, I don't recall any problem of that sort. I found the box containing the prints they had exhibited, but no care had been taken with them so they are in pretty bad shape. I don't think anyone had looked at them for thirty-plus years.

    Thanks for your advice.
     
  13. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Member

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    I say if your parents get full photo credit, go for it. What more fitting a legacy than if my son were to pick up MY torch after I passed on. So go ahead and pick up theirs.
     
  14. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Member

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    Copyrights exist whether they were filed or not. Current copyrights are protected for 90 years after the death of the original artist or writer. Since you are the owner by inheretance, the copyright is yours now. It will continue to be yours for 90 years after your parents died, unless Congress extends it again. After that, they are public domain. If you know your parents wouldn't mind you printing them, then go for it. Legally, though, you are on solid ground.
     
  15. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    what a great idea alex :smile:
    maybe you should mark they with the photographer's name / printed by you ?
    that way they get credit for the camerawork and you get credit for
    the darkroomwork ...

    good luck!
    john
     
  16. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Sounds like a worthwhile and entirely ethical project, Alex. I can only hope that my negatives are as well looked after by my kids and grandkids after I've made that leap!

    Post some of them as you work on it!
     
  17. John Bartley

    John Bartley Member

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    I wouldn't want to debate a lawyer on a matter of law (I'd lose), but I think you had specified that you legally own the negatives. So, I would guess that legally they (the negatives) are yours to do with as you wish. The only "legal" impediments that I could see would be:
    • If your parents had sold the rights to the use of any specific negative ... the only way you'll know is to find the relevant "rights" document, or to hear about it after you print and someone objects ...
    • If you print them, sell the prints and pass them off as completely your own and get caught (I can't see you doing this so it's irrelevant).

    But ...... you didn't ask about "legal", you asked about "ethical" and seeing as you own the negatives, it seems that the only unethical thing you could do is leave the source of the negatives unmentioned or make the credit ambiguous when you print them (another pair of things that I can't see you doing), so why not go ahead and print them, give and take credit where due and be proud of your parents (and your own) work.

    cheers

    PS : this opinion is worth exactly what you paid for it :tongue: