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Using photograph from 1903 book as illustration in book now

Posted: Sun May 30, 2021 2:03 am
by Victorian_reader
The photograph was taken around the early 1880s by a commercial portrait photographer who died in 1913. It was used as an illustration in a biography of the sitter, published in 1903 (not long after the sitter’s death). The sitter might well have been the person who commissioned the original photograph for publicity purposes (i.e. for distributing to fans) because, in a letter of the mid-1880s, s/he regrets not being able to get any more prints from this photographer since ‘his negatives are all used up’.
So am I right that this image is in the public domain and that a photograph of it (reproduced from the 1903 book) can be used as an illustration in a book now? Do the seventy years run from the book’s publication (1903) or the photographer’s death (1913)? The publisher of the forthcoming book is actually the same as that of the 1903 book, though now subsumed into a vast multi-national conglomerate. It would just be reassuring to know that we don’t need to jump through any multi-national hoops for permission! Thank you.

Re: Using photograph from 1903 book as illustration in book now

Posted: Sun May 30, 2021 8:48 am
by AndyJ
Hi Victorian_reader

The photograph is no longer in copyright. Although the copyright law which applied at the time it was taken was the 1862 Fine Art Copyright Act, when the 1911 Copyright Act came into force, it applied a new copyright duration for photopgrapghs, including ones already in existence. The details are to be found in section 21 of the 1911 Act. This said that the period of protection for a photograph was 50 years from the date it was made, irrespective of whether or not the work was published. Thus this particular photograph would no longer have been protected by copyright after the early 1930s. Photographs were unique in this respect, in that the copyright term was not based on the lifetime of the author as was the case with all other types of copyright work (which I mentioned in your earlier thread about logos from around the same period).

You mention multi-national hoops. This makes me wonder if you are talking about a photograph which was made somewhere other than the UK (or Great Britain as it was at that time). If it was in continental Europe, a number of different copyright terms existed, but none were longer than the lifetime of the author (the photographer) plus 50 years after his death, and so the photograph would still be out of copyright now, if that was the case.

If the country of origin was the USA, the law there was substantially different at that time, meaning that a work first had to be registered to gain copyright, and provided this was done correctly the copyright term could last up to a maximum of 56 years from the date of publication. Thus, again the photograph would be out of copyright today if it had been made in the USA. This situation was reinforced by a provisoin of the 1976 US Copyright Act which said that any work which had been published prior to 1923 was no longer in copyright.

Re: Using photograph from 1903 book as illustration in book now

Posted: Mon May 31, 2021 3:29 pm
by Victorian_reader
Many thanks, Andy, for this clear thread through the mazes of Copyright Acts.
Just for clarification in case it is helpful for others: yes, this was a photo taken in the UK by a UK photographer; and the book it appeared in was a UK publication.
(I alluded to 'multi-national hoops' because the firm that published that 1903 book -- and will be publishing ours -- is now part of an international conglomerate so huge that even finding the right bit of it from which to seek permission would be an undertaking in itself. So I am very relieved that we don't need any permission from the publisher.) Thank you very much for this helpful and reassuring answer!

Re: Using photograph from 1903 book as illustration in book now

Posted: Wed Jun 02, 2021 9:00 am
by Nick Cooper
Am I the only one raising an eye-brow at the publishers not being aware that such a photograph would be long out of copyright?!

Re: Using photograph from 1903 book as illustration in book now

Posted: Wed Jun 02, 2021 9:33 am
by AndyJ
Hi Nick,

To be fair, I don't think Victorian reader was saying that the publishers thought that the copyright was still extant, rather this query was intended to seek reassurance that there wouldn't be any issues.