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Old books and the illustrations therein

Posted: Sun Dec 02, 2018 7:46 pm
by MrsTwosheds
Hi again guys

Wonder if you can help with this one, please? It’s a bit contorted and I would (possibly!) know the answer if I was dealing with the first layer of the enquiry but am not sure about the historical aspect.

I am thinking about buying a book and would like to use the illustrations for a display (which would require their reproduction). The book was published in 1911 but the subject matter is Napoleonic, (so the cartoons were drawn roughly mid to late 18th and early 19th century). Both of the authors/historians have been dead for more than 70 years, so I believe that I would be able to use the text without any problem?

However, I’m not too sure about the Napoleonic illustrations themselves. Obviously, the artists/cartoonists would by now be long gone but would the copyright (if, say, the works were in a private collection or in a museum in 1911) still be enforceable by the estate of the original owner or by the museum? The very act of publishing would have placed these particular works in the public arena in 1911 (if, indeed, they were not printed before) but I am not sure whether the particular printed image in the book is now in the public domain or whether private owners or museums have an overall copyright if they still own the original works (even though these may now be several hundred years old). I know that some museums are very protective of their exhibits and claim copyright on everything (regardless of its age and accessibility). Am I overthinking this, or have I got it round my neck?

Sorry this is a bit of a ramble! Very many thanks as always.

Best regards


Re: Old books and the illustrations therein

Posted: Mon Dec 03, 2018 9:43 am
by AndyJ
Hi Sally,

You are right to be cautious about older works which may still be in copyright due to never having been published with the authorisation of the copyright owner. In cases such as these, copyright could exist until the end of 2039* when, finally, all such works will enter the public domain in the UK.

But, yes, you are right that the act of publishing these cartoons in 1911 would have begun the copyright term which would then have lasted for 50 years from the date of publication. The relevant legislation is section 17 of the Copyright Act 1911. The whole book will therefore be in the public domain now.

* ie 50 years from the end of the year the 1988 Copright Designs and Patents Act came into force.

Re: Old books and the illustrations therein

Posted: Mon Dec 03, 2018 10:14 am
by MrsTwosheds
That’s wonderful news, Andy - thank you so much as always for your speedy and erudite reply!

I had been pondering this issue for some time as I frequently haunt secondhand bookshops in the hope of picking up copyright-free material (particularly old Victorian art books) - I have always been slightly worried about books (however old) containing art work credited to museums as I was never sure whether I could receive a metaphorical bop on the nose for the use of the images today. This clears things up beautifully.

I’ve said this before but I absolutely love this forum - what an amazing resource this is! Thank you again.

Very best regards