Printing and Exhibiting Someone Else's Work
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.
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.
It sounds like a very nice idea. Your parents would be proud!
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, 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.
Originally Posted by MattKing
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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.
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Originally Posted by Alex Hawley
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.
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.
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.
Many thanks guys for helping out on this.