I collect really old RR photos, mostly postcards. The laws are complicated and have several different criteria. As I recall, if something is over 70 years old and no copyright on the image (and copyright not renewed,) they are considered public domain. During the 1950s a lot of serious railfans (i.e. foamers) used the Rollieflex. Both Eric Treacy and David Plowden had one. It's almost certain that your negs came from a railfan and not a pro photographer. As to how the negs got out on the market, there are two ways that are most likely. First, the foamers of the time used to trade negs all the time, and later Kodachrome slides. Second, they could have come from an estate sale after the guy died and the kids didn't want a bunch of old photos of trains. That's the more likely scenario. As for your making prints, I say go for it. You've got the negs. Here's a link to U.S. copyright laws. It looks to me that if the copyright was not renewed after 28 years on a photo made before 1978, it expired. I'd say the odds that a foamer had his images copyrighted are about zero.
Kent in SD
This is very promising!
Originally Posted by Two23
No. Copyright infringement is making a copy when you're not supposed to. Just selling the actual negatives is not an infringement.
Originally Posted by brian steinberger
That would be my view of it too.
Originally Posted by MattKing
You cannot steal paternity of the work. Right to paternity is unprescriptible. Nobody can publish Hamlet under his own name claiming that Shakespeare died more than 70 years ago. Nor can anybody publish Small Village, the unknown XVI century tragedy, because the author is unknown :)
You can certainly print the pictures and state that the photographer is unknown, and you are the printer. You have the copyright of the work as printer.
If you make some profit out of it, and one day the photographer proves his paternity, if the work is still covered by the economic rights, he'll be entitled to a certain share of your profit, which I cannot quantify. If the the work is not still covered by the economic rights, and you did not "steal" its paternity, I certainly presume nothing is due to the photographer.
The fact that you don't know the photographer identity doesn't allow you to hint the work is yours. The fact that the economic rights of the work expired never allows you to hint the work is yours.
The fact that you own, as private property, the negatives doesn't mean you can hint the work is yours. You can own, as private property, a work by Picasso but you cannot hint it's "yours" because it's "yours".
Considering that normally the print is executed by the photographer, in my opinion if you exhibit the work with your name only you are hinting the work is entirely yours and you are in breach of (imprescriptible) paternity rights.
Stating that the photographer is unknown and you are the printer is sufficient. If you become rich because of those prints, be prepared to share the wealth with the photographer's heirs, if they ever trace your work and prove their title.
Thanks so much guys. This helps out alot. I would never hint the work was mine. Considering I'm 30 years old and the images are from the 40's I don't think I'd be able to disguise that one!
I just feel some of the images are timeless and need to be appreciated again rather than just be thrown to the antique and thrift shops.
I stopped lending out original negatives after being taken for a ride by train foamers several times too many. I'm glad to see you're taking a reasonable approach to someone else's negatives.
They would have to prove the images were theirs.
Originally Posted by zsas
Ugh. Where are my art history professor and my media law professor when I need them? Sounds like a copyright exam question from media law.
Agree, I said claim, which means one needs to go to court and the claimant wd have to prove their case to a jury or judge if bench trial, which if they win could be costly. The risk of the photographer or his/her heirs seeing one of these prints might be rather low, but the rail yard/train line could theoretically own the negs too. Could these be dupes too and the orig negs/slides are still in the photog's/heirs possession?
Originally Posted by lxdude
Who's to say, onus is on the OP, seems like a risk to me
What about the ethics of this? Found art is quite gray, dammed if you do, dammed if you....