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  1. #1
    tjaded's Avatar
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    Copyright law in the USA

    Hi all--
    I have a question that I cannot seem to find a clear cut answer on. Hopefully this is the right forum. If you buy a negative or chrome of an image taken sometime pre-1970, do you now own the copyright if you register the image or is it public domain or something else entirely? The reason I ask is that I own quite a few old images that I have collected over the years and I have been asked on a few different occasions to make copies for use in things like tv programs (for retro effect or whatever.) I have been reluctant to do it for a couple of reasons, first being that it would freak me out to watch a tv show and suddenly see a picture of my grandmother or something on the screen...the possibility is slim that a situation like that would occur, but you never know. The second is strictly the legality of it. The producers of one of the tv shows assured me it was legal but then wanted me to sign a liabilty release. I know there is some way to do this--many years ago I had a long talk with someone that owned a HUGE 8mm/26mm home movie collection (not his movies originally) that were used in other films (the old footage of LA in the 1950's at the begining of LA Confidential being one example.) I never even thought to ask him about the whole legality thing! So...anyone know for sure?
    Adios,
    Matt
    --------------------
    "Everytime I find a film or paper that I like, they discontinue it." -Paul Strand

    www.glasskeyphoto.com

  2. #2
    John Bartley's Avatar
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    You know of course that there's going to be a whole bunch of people who will analyse the legal aspects of this sort of topic until we run out of bits and bytes.

    Here's my laymans take on it (just an opinion) and is likely how I would proceed if it was me :

    If the original owner(s) of the negatives cared so little for them that they either threw them out, sold them at a garage sale or disposed of them thru' an estate sale, then they've given up any rights they had.

    If you have no practical way of identifying the people in the negatives, then how can you be legally responsible for finding and notifying them that you are about to use their likeness?

    And, while there is a risk that someone might identify an image, what are the odds? My guess is that you are more likely to be struck by a bus during rush hour traffic in Whitehorse .....

    I'd likely use them, but I sure wouldn't sign any papers absolving the producers of responsibility just to accept it all myself.


    So...anyone know for sure?
    This answer will only come from a court of law. Even a lawyer can only give an (educated) opinion.

    cheers eh?

  3. #3
    jstraw's Avatar
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    I do not know the legalities of using such material in films but I'd take the request to sign a waiver seriously.

    The copyright issue is not complicated at all. It's extremely simple. Copyright acrues from creation, not registration. Registration can make it easier to defend copyright but it does not constitute an imposition of copyright.

    The lack of provinance doesn't mean copyright doesn't exist and the responsibility is on the user to clear rights, not the owner of copyright to assert them. Unless you created the work, paid for the creation of the work or purchased the rights, you do not own and cannot manufacture copyright.

    There are indeed cases not unsimilar to the hypothetical grandma where people have sued and recovered damages.

    IAMAL but in my opinion there is no open question about copyright, just one of risk management.
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  4. #4
    luvcameras's Avatar
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    Jstraw - but doesnt he own the rights the images ?

  5. #5
    luvcameras's Avatar
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    I have a smiliar concern - but even less likely to be an issue. I purchased an 1880's cabinet card of a photographer...I scanned it, touched it up added my site logo...I then re-sold the original image on ebay. Do I have the right to use this image ?
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails ww5.jpg  

  6. #6
    BWGirl's Avatar
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    Here's a link that may help get you started:

    http://www.photosecrets.com/tips.law.html

    There is also an excellent book:

    http://www.amazon.com/Law-Plain-Engl...366705&sr=8-25

    And there's another book that has business & legal forms (so if you decide to allow the TV people to use you images.)

    Hope all this helps!
    Jeanette
    .................................................. ................
    Isaiah 25:1

  7. #7
    jstraw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by luvcameras View Post
    Jstraw - but doesnt he own the rights the images ?
    Think of it this way. Let's not think about negs or chromes. Let's say you paint a picture and sell it to me. Do I have the right to sell the use of that painting for illustrating a book cover? I do not. Unless copyright to the work was explicitly reassigned to me, I don't own it ("it" being copyright...the right to copy).

    When you sell a print do you give up the right to control the use of the image? There is no inherent legal distinction between the original in-camera creation (the neg or chrome) and the duplicate (the print).
    Last edited by jstraw; 03-08-2007 at 09:41 AM. Click to view previous post history.
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  8. #8
    jstraw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by luvcameras View Post
    I have a smiliar concern - but even less likely to be an issue. I purchased an 1880's cabinet card of a photographer...I scanned it, touched it up added my site logo...I then re-sold the original image on ebay. Do I have the right to use this image ?
    This is another good example of why this is a risk management issue. You may own the rights to use that image in your logo if its copyright has expired. Otherwise, no. But there's the question of the liklihood of there being any consequences for doing so.
    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. In velit arcu, consequat at, interdum sit amet, consequat in, quam.

  9. #9

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    It is my understanding that the copyright protection extends to the original producer of a work for a period of his/her lifetime plus twenty five years. It is only then that a work will enter the public domain...provided additional copyright protection is not sought and gained.

    This is what the US Copyright Office told me at the time that I sought and obtained a copyright for both my image and the descriptive term for "Red Rocks Where the Stars Come Out".

    A copyright may still exist when a copyright has not been formally applied for and obtained.
    Art is a step from what is obvious and well-known toward what is arcane and concealed.

    Visit my website at http://www.donaldmillerphotography.com

  10. #10
    naturephoto1's Avatar
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    It is my understanding that if you are the photographer (artist, work of art) for works created after January 1, 1978 that the copyright lasts your entire life plus 70 years after your death so that your relatives can benefit from the copyright.

    Rich
    Richard A. Nelridge
    http://www.nelridge.com

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