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TWA airline posters by David Klein

Posted: Tue Jun 10, 2014 8:19 am
by Stevenchesters

I was wondering what your thoughts were regarding copyright surrounding a series of travel posters designed by David Klein. He was commissioned to produce the posters in the 50's and 60's by TWA, an American airline company who operated from 1939 - 2001.
I love the posters and was hoping to faithfully reproduce a selection of them
for commercial re-sale.
Any advice or direction you can give me would once again be most appreciated.

Best regards

Posted: Tue Jun 10, 2014 12:00 pm
by AndyJ
Hi Steven,
This is not at all straightforward to answer. The problem is that prior to the 1976 US Copyright Act, all works had to be registered to gain protection. Registration was initially for 28 years, and provided this was properly renewed in the 27th year, it could be extended to 56 years. Any work which was still in copyright when the 1976 Act came into force, would have benefited from having 95 years added onto its original period of protection. Much more detailed information about this can be found in this pdf.
The fact that TWA as a company ceased to exist in 2001 does not alter this situation as all the assets (including the intellectual property) of TWA were taken over by American Airlines.
I think we have to assume that TWA or David Klein would have registered these paintings in the prescribed manner and therefore since he appears to have started producing these posters in 1955, they would have been in copyright at the time the 1976 Act came into force (1955 + 28 = 1983). The best clue, if you have access to one of the posters, is to look for the copyright notice (something like: © David Klein 1955 or © TWA 1955). If there is no such notice and it's a genuine, complete, poster then chances are it was not correctly registered. However what is less clear is who might own the copyright today. If David Klein retained copyright then you would need to contact his estate (see bottom of this page. However if when he was commissioned by TWA he transferred the copyright to TWA, then American Airlines will most likely own the copyright today. I suggest you contact Klein's estate about this.
However, if my assumption is wrong about the works having been registered (it's amazing how many artists and writers did not do this correctly), then the works will be in the public domain. You can find out about registrations by contacting the US Copyright Office. Unfortunately their online catalogs do not contain details of pre-1976 artistic works, so you would probably need to ask for a manual search to be done, for which a fee is payable.

Posted: Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:50 pm
by Stevenchesters
Hi Andy,

thanks for the info, its very interesting and also very complex!

Can you possibly give me some examples of artists whom didn't register in the correct way for copyright ? Or is there a way for me to find out this information?

many thanks

Posted: Tue Jun 10, 2014 2:57 pm
by AndyJ
Hi Steven,
Here are a couple of examples of artists who failed to correctly carry out the formalities with regard to copyright of their work in the US: Chicago Art Institute*. Obviosily there is no definitive list of works or artists who fall into this category.
The US Copyright Office catalogs of registered works can provide positive proof (which would satisfy a court for instance) that something was registered correctly, but if the publisher subsequently failed to put an adequate copyright notice on a book or other work, that would have invalidated the copyright under the old system.

* If you delete the '6' from the end of that URL and then refresh the link, it should take you back to some other examples of a similar sort.