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Using old photographs and paintings for a book cover

Posted: Thu Oct 06, 2011 11:11 am
by Iwanttoknow
If I buy a print of an 160 year old painting or photograph, can I use it as a cover for a book without asking permission from the organisation who printed it?

Posted: Thu Oct 06, 2011 11:47 am
by AndyJ
I think the answer depends on the status of the print. If the original artwork has been reproduced mechanically (using an industrial process similar to photocopying) then it almost certainly wouldn't qualify as a copyrightable work because of the lack of human creativity involved in the copying. But the makers of the print may still be able to claim copyright in some other feature, such as any accompanying text, so you would need to check carefully to see what they have claimed in respect of copyright. If in doubt challenge them to explain why they think they may have copyright, as a lot of people just assume that putting a copyright notice on something is all it takes.
I assume that you have no means of accessing the original work(s) in order to make your own copy because this would definitely not involve anyone else's rights, since anything created 160 years ago is now indisputedly in the public domain.