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Copyright of autographs

Posted: Tue Jun 18, 2013 3:39 pm
by Anna Groves
I'm a freelance editor and I'm doing a spot of picture research for a souvenir guide I'm working on for a heritage organisation. In this publication I quite fancy reproducing the autographs of some pretty famous folk (your basic Hollywood A-listers) who have been connected to this place as a filming location. They scribbled various messages of thanks and good will, and gave them to the administrator of the property where they filmed.

Given the domestic scale of this publication, I can't believe I have to go these people's agents to get clearance to reproduce their signatures. So I'd be very pleased to hear from someone who has knowledge and/or experience of this aspect of copyright.

Thanks very much for your time.

Posted: Tue Jun 18, 2013 5:24 pm
by AndyJ
Hi Anna,
You don't say where you are hoping to publish this guide, so I'll assume it's in the UK.
There's little chance of anyone being able to claim copyright in their signature. Names alone are not subject to copyright, and although it could be argued that a signature is an artistic work which represents the character of its author, it is unlikely that would be sufficient for a court case.
The only area in which this might have been a problem is the so-called right of publicity which exists in some US states. These laws vary quite a lot, but generally include prohibitions on reproducing a person's likeness, name or signature in connection with a commercial venture without permission. You can find one of the more stringent laws in the Californian State Code. However these laws have no effect outside their respective states, so you don't need to worry about them.
Normally the other area of law which might cause a problem is that of passing-off, but since the celebrities concerned really did come to this location and left their autographs and comments, this use would not be confusing or misleading the public by means of false attributions or endorsements.
You should be OK to go ahead with your project.

Posted: Tue Jun 18, 2013 5:41 pm
by Anna Groves
Hi Andy,

And thank you very much for your sagacious reply!

Yes, this will publish in the UK only, and now I feel much more confident about incorporating this material.

Thanks again,

Anna