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Copyright issues on old magazines?

Posted: Mon May 14, 2012 4:56 pm
by harlando

We own many old magazines dating from 1880s to 1950s that we would like to digitize and possibly sell/print. However, we do not know the exact laws surrounding this issue.

We know that in some cases anything printed prior to 1923 falls under the category of 'public domain' or the 70-year rule - but it sounds like there are several exceptions.

The images include both fonts, adverts, pictures of art and photographs taken clearly by a photographer from the paper (??) etc. Some of the adverts relate to products that are still being produced i.e. tradenames, like fragrances, car manufacturers, but some we've never even heard of! The vast majority of them are French and Spanish, one of them is called 'Blanco y Negro. The other one is L'Illustration (magazine as opposed to the newspaper).

We would love to know what are the boundaries of copyright for these magazines? Can we use any or only some?

An alternative is using some of the adverts/fonts for partial reproduction - is this allowed?

Any help would be really great. Thanks

Posted: Mon May 14, 2012 8:38 pm
by AndyJ
Hi Harlando,
The problem you raise is one faced by many museums and libraries which hold stocks of old publications that they would like to digitize and make available to a wider public but are unable to do so because of uncertainty about the copyright status of the works.
First of all I should address the issue of 1923 which you mentioned. I suspect that what you have seen is a reference to US copyright law where in general anything first published there prior to 1923 is now considered to be in the public domain. This stems from a entirely different legal framework which existed in the US prior to 1976, where works had to be registered before copyright became effective, and the period of protection (from 1909) was an initial 28 years which could be extended by a further 28 years through re-registration, from the the date of publication. After 1976, tthe US adopted a similar system to most other western nations, namely the author's lifetime plus 50 (later 70) years. So if you have any US magazines which predate 1923 you should be OK to re-issue them to the public.
But for publcations originating in the UK or other European countries, different rules apply. Broadly these rules are the author's lifetime + 50 or 70 years mentioned above. The problem this poses with magazines is that you would need to ascertain the dates of death of all the writers, photographers and artists who contributed to each edition in order to find out whether overall the work could be still in copyright. If you consider a young writer (say in his mid twenties) who contributed an article to an edition published in 1900, who then went on to live until he was 90 (so his year of death was 1965), his work would still be in copyright today and could have another 23 or so years to go. Trying to track down the heirs of such people to obtain permission to re-publish the copyright work is a near impossible task.
On the plus side, in the UK, copyright in the actual typographical layout of the published editions only last for 25 years from the end of the year in which it was published. In other words reproducing the magazines by scanning them would not pose any problem, but you would still technically need permission to re-publish the individual articles and illustrations unless you were absolutely sure the authors had died more than 70 years ago ie prior to 1942. For Spanish publications, things are a bit simpler because a magazine is classed as a collective work. Copyright in a collective work lasts for 70 years from the end of the year in which it is published, so any magazine which was published in Spain prior to 1942 should be free of copyright. French law is similar to that of Spain with regard to duration of protection for collective works, although I am not entirely sure whether French law regards a magazine as a collective work. Although it should not impose any special requirements if you are scanning the magazines, French law strongly protects the so-called droit de paternité - or the author's right to attribution - even after the work has fallen into the public domain.
You also mention trade names. You can freely reproduce those within the magazines as you are not seeking to provide goods which are protected by trade marks, just the adverts themselves.
So to summarise, magazines from Spain and France published prior to 1942 should be OK for you to digitze and re-publish, as would any American publication from before 1923. But UK publications will need a great deal more research before you can assume they are out of copyright.

Posted: Thu May 24, 2012 8:15 pm
by harlando
So many thanks, Andy, for such a comprehensive answer - we were never expecting such fabulous help. Thanks for the taking the time - it really is appreciated!