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old postcard on eBay

Posted: Mon Feb 19, 2018 3:19 pm
by waiter
For an article I want to publish in an academic journal I want to include a postcard photo dating from before WW1. Via Google image I have found the postcard for sale on two sites on eBay. If I buy it, does this make it OK for me to use? I imagine it is definitely an infringement if I simply take a screen shot and use that without buying the card?

Re: old postcard on eBay

Posted: Mon Feb 19, 2018 4:12 pm
by AndyJ
Hi waiter,

I very much doubt if the picture on the postcard is still in copyright. If it predates WW1 then it will be subject to the 1911 Copyright Act which gives photographs a fixed copyright duration of 50 years from the date the photograph was made, meaning that your image will have been out of copyright by no later than 1964 and probably earlier. So if you do buy the postcard you can almost certainly publish it in whatever form you wish. You don't mention the nationality of the postcard, but if it originated outside the UK, it is possible that a different copyright duration may apply. Please come back here with the details if that is the case and we will try and sort out the duration. That said, whatever its nationality, it is highly unlikely that the image is in copyright today.

You might think that this would mean that the image you saw on ebay is also not covered by copyright. However since you saw a digital reproduction of the original, it is potentially possible that a new copyright exists in the digital version. The law on this is less clear than you might expect, and so without knowing the complete details of how the digital copy was made, it's not possible to say whether just using it without buying the postcard would amount to infringement or not.

There is one other aspect worth mentioning as this may avoid the problem of infringement all together. Since you wish to use the image in an academic paper, the fair dealing exception for private study and research will apply, unless you are being paid to write the paper, which would amount to commercial use and negate the exception. It doesn't matter that the paper may be published in a journal which does have to be paid for, since that is distinct from the purpose of the actual paper. Also note that you would need to acknowledge the source (ie the original photographer or company which published the postcard) if you can ascertain it. However as it is standard practice to cite your sources in an academic paper, you would no doubt do this as a matter of course.

Re: old postcard on eBay

Posted: Mon Feb 19, 2018 6:56 pm
by waiter
Brilliant! A most comprehensive and helpful reply.