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Reproducing ww2 posters commercially

Posted: Thu May 08, 2014 7:27 pm
by Stevenchesters

Was looking for some advice regarding reproducing commercially some ww2 posters that the national archives have released on wikimedia commons.

All the images are stated copyright free on wikimedia commons, but was unsure if that applied when using the material commercially or not.

After extensive reading and searching the internet I'm pretty sure I'm ok to do this, however I'm getting some conflicting information and don't want to stray on the wrong side of copyright law so was hoping there was someone on here that could provide me with some useful info regarding this.

I run a small part time business selling art prints and frames.

Best regards to all.


Posted: Fri May 09, 2014 6:39 am
by AndyJ
Hi Steven,
The Wikimedia Commons site does not mention commercial use, and so I think this means that this is not a restriction. However the National Archives site, under its copyright terms of use, says:
Images from the collections of The National Archives posted on Wikimedia may also be downloaded and reused without permission in any format for purposes of research, private study or education (non-commercial use) only.
There are no copyright restrictions on these images, either because they are Crown copyright and the copyright is waived, or the term of copyright has expired. When using the images, please credit 'The National Archives' and include the catalogue reference of the item to allow others to access the original image or document.
Paragraph 2 is somewhat contradictory. If something is out of copyright because the term has expired, then the previous owner of the copyright has no power to apply terms to the use of such material. However, WW2 posters are not in this category as they are subject to Crown Copyright which lasts for 125 years from the end of the year in which a work was created. On that basis these posters are in the category where copyright has been waived, and the Wikimedia Commons licence applies.
Since there is some doubt about what constitutes commercial use in the education category (for instance, could you charge for the reasonable costs of reproduction?), I think it might be worth you contacting the National Archives to seek clarification.

Posted: Fri May 09, 2014 8:46 am
by Stevenchesters
Hi Andy,

Thanks for your swift response. Your advice is much appreciated and I've already took your advice and dropped a mail to the National Archives regarding this.
With regards to crown copyright I've just printed off a quite useful chart from the book by Tim Padfield called 'copyright for archivists'. The chart allows you to follow a set of questions to give you an answer when the copyright terms expire.
However to use the chart correctly I need to know if I use an image from wikimedia commons,for example in this instance a photograph or scan that the National Archives have released, will any copyright that may or may not apply refer to the original Artwork or the 'new' digital photo of the work that has been recently uploaded to wiki.
I hope this makes some sort of sense and once again thanks for your expertise!!

Posted: Fri May 09, 2014 10:14 am
by AndyJ
Hi Steven,
I'm glad you have discovered Tim Padfiled's flowchart. It certainly makes things easier.
If these posters have been digitally copied then it is unlikely the new versions will hold separate copyright, simply because there is little or no human 'interpretation' involved in the reproduction process, which is akin to photocopying. Only where a painting or piece of sculpture has been conventionally photographed is there likely to be sufficient evidence of human skill and judgement having been used by the photographer for a new copyright to arise. That said, this is a largely untested area of law.

Posted: Sun May 11, 2014 10:14 am
by Stevenchesters
Hi Andy,

With regards to crown copyright, are there any guidelines that I can follow to easily determine if an image or artwork would be or had been covered by crown copyright?

I was wanting to reproduce some vintage British railway travel posters and my research led me to the Science and Society picture library whom claim copyright to these images on behalf of the National Railway Museum. Having contacted them with regards to purchasing some image licences was told that due to existing arrangements they could not supply me with the licence.

This led me to thinking that if these posters were to fall under Crown
Copyright, would any copyright now be expired enabling me to seek the digital images elsewhere?

I've seen many of these posters for sale all over the internet and even found American based websites offering the digital image files for very small fees.
Two examples of these posters are 'tynemouth, LNER poster dating circa 1926 and Devon GWR poster 1936.

I found it quite frustrating that Science and Society simply redirected me to another website where I could buy stock at inflated prices giving this particular website a monopoly on these now iconic images.

Your thoughts on this would be appreciated and once again thanks for your priceless advice![/img]

Posted: Sun May 11, 2014 3:27 pm
by AndyJ
Hi again Steven,
As far as those particular railway posters you mention are concerned, I'm not sure that Crown copyright will be of assistance. Crown copyright is defined as:
(1) Where a work is made by Her Majesty or by an officer or servant of the Crown in the course of his duties—
  • (a) the work qualifies for copyright protection notwithstanding section 153(1) (ordinary requirement as to qualification for copyright protection), and
    (b) Her Majesty is the first owner of any copyright in the work.
and it may also include copyright which has been assigned to the Crown, for instance where a work was commissioned by a Government department from an individual or company which were not themselves employees of the Crown, but for which the supply contract stipulated that copyright was to be assigned to the Crown. This means that posters created after nationalisation of the railways in 1948 and up to privatisation (around 1997) would be subject to Crown Copyright, but for those produced before and after those dates, copyright would most probably belong to the individual railway companies, and be subject to the 'normal' rules for copyright terms.
This is possibly the reason that the Science amd Society library were unable to help.
However should you come across other railway posters which were published after nationalisation and before 1964 (ie 50 years or more ago) then it is most likely that Crown copyright in them will have now lapsed due to the provisons of section 163 (3)(b) CDPA 1988 which I quoted in a previous posting. If there is any doubt, or you think you are being fobbed off by someone, the ultimate authority on matters concerning Crown copyright is the Controller of Her Majesty's Stationery Office, also known as the Director of the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI), who can be contacted via the National Archives website. You can find a copy of the current regulations on the subject here

Posted: Sun May 11, 2014 6:29 pm
by Stevenchesters
Hi Andy

Thanks for the info yet again, it's really helpful.

It makes me realise though how many people are actually disregarding copyright and these images (some large companies and small), and iIs there actually anybody policing such infringements.

Best regards