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1930s Pulp Magazines - Copyright!

 
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GeorgeM
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 23, 2014 7:10 pm    Post subject: 1930s Pulp Magazines - Copyright! Reply with quote

Hi, I wonder if someone can help...

Many years ago (1962) I inherited a collection of painting/drawings from my father, that he completed between 1935 to 1950 - and probably numbering around 100 pictures in all on a variety of subjects.

A couple years of ago I decided to incorporate them into a book, a kind of factionalised account of his life, that I'm currently about about half way through writing.

During my on-line research, I found to my surprise a number of pictures on the covers of American "Pulp" fiction magazines, published in the 30s that are very similar to my father's drawings. I would guess the likelihood is that my father used them as references.

I would still like to try and complete the book, so I decided to ascertain who owns the copyright and perhaps agree a deal, but found more information that to adds to my confusion. I understand that 99.4% of the US magazines published between the years of 1923 and 1964, never renewed their copyrights which apparently places them in the Public Domain.

It seems that out of over 200,000 different magazine and periodical titles that were published during that time period only 1,300 magazines renewed their copyrights (and in many cases, NOT for every issue).

So it would really be appreciated if some would could advise me if (a) the non-renewal of the magazine copyright has any bearing on use of my father's drawings...and if it does (b) any suggestions how I can find the copyright holder.

Many thanks...George
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AndyJ
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 23, 2014 9:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi George,
As you have already discovered, US copyright in the pre-1976 era can be difficult to unravel.
The situation over registration is compounded by not knowing who exactly is the copyright owner - whether it is the artist or the publisher - in each case. I suspect that in many cases the artists will have been directly employed by the publishers and so the publisher would have owned the copyright from the start but there may be instances where the artist was a freelance and didn't necessarily assign copyright to the publishers. Where (if) this was the case, then the artist would have been free to register their work and to renew the registration if necessary. Tracking down that sort of information will be difficult because the US Copyright Office does not have online catalogs of artistic works available prior to 1976, meaning that you would need to get their staff to conduct a search based on the artist's name.
But that doesn't really help answer your questions. If the magazines failed to re-register their copyright and the first 28 year period of protection had run out before I Jan 1964, then the works are in the public domain, so you could freely use both your father's drawings and the original artwork if you so choose. I imagine that, as their name suggests, pulp magazines were thought of as somewhat ephemeral publications and so not worth the cost and effort to re-register.
However should you have reason to believe that any of the particular magazines you are interested in may have been re-registered, you can assume that the work is still protected today. If we take, as an example, a magazine first published in 1930 which was registered and then re-registered correctly, it would have been protected until 1986, and thus would have benefited from both the 1976 Act (75 years from first registration) and the 1998 Term Extension Act (+another 20 years), meaning that it would benefit from 95 years in total from the date of registration, so until the end of 2025.
If the publisher has gone out of business in the meantime, you may be able to use some of the specialist magazine collector's websites to discover if there was any transfer of the company's assets to another publisher. If it appears there is no successor in title, then I think you can, in good faith, go ahead and publish your father's work without much risk of anyone objecting. I'm not clear if you wish to draw attention to the fact that your father's drawings may have been derived from these earlier works, but clearly if you don't, then likelihood of anyone connected with the old magazines (as opposed to modern day collectors) spotting the similarity is even more remote.

It is worth adding that since I assume you would wish to publish your memoir in Europe, the maximum protection these magazines could benefit from is the local standard term if that is less than the US term. So for instance under UK law it would be the artist's lifetime plus 70 years, unless the artist had died before 1946, in which case the work would now be out of copyright, because until 1 Jan 1996, the term then was the lifetime plus 50 years. The situation today under Spanish law is similar to the UK (and other EU states) although for a work created between 1879 and 1987, the post mortem term was 80 years.
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GeorgeM
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 24, 2014 8:53 pm    Post subject: 1930s Pulp Magazines - Copyright! Reply with quote

Hi Andy

Firstly, many thanks for your long reply, it was very helpful and very kind of you to give me the benefit of your advice.

Secondly, my apologies for the late reply, but I thought I'd wait for a response from an organisation in the USA who describe themselves as...

"A virtual museum of vintage magazine cover and advertising art, from the Golden Age of American Illustration"

I've just had their reply, with their perspective on the situation, but it's still nowhere near a definitive answer. However, they offered to put my query on a specialist magazine forum, in the hope that someone, somewhere may have an answer...

They also thought they knew someone who owns the current rights to the magazines and have offered to send me details. But I'll hold off contacting them, until I see if there's any joy with the forum.

However, I'll keep you posted through this forum, whatever I find out.

Thanks again

George
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AndyJ
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 25, 2014 2:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the update George. That website looks quite helpful. There seems to be quite a lot of detail about some of the illustrators/artists, which may possibly be of use if you want to determine the length of copyright using the UK/EU approach based on the lifetime of the artist. I note that a good many of them were freelance artists and so it is quite possible the magazines did not own the copyright in every case.
And yes, please do keep this forum informed of your progress, as it is helpful to have case histories of real life issues.
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