1905 item

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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1905 item

Post by tackler7 »

A now defunct sporting club produced a dinner menu in 1905 (under their own name). There is no way of deciding who produced it and it all likelihood it would have been a collaborative effort. It was 'published' at the actual meal in the same year.

It was printed by an independent printer - long since defunct.

The menu displays no trademarks etc.

The sporting club went through a number of legal reincarnations. One set of minutes from 1935 state that the club had no assets at that time, and when the final reincarnation was wound up in 2005, that sold its physical assets to pay its debts, but no mention about intellectual property assetts. There is a 'friends' organisation who looks after the odd enquiry from past players etc.

Under the 1911 act who would have been considered the 'author' - the sporting club? the organising committee, etc and how is the lifetime of the author calculated in these situations?

Thank you.
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Post by AndyJ »

Hi tackler,
I think that under the circumstances which you have described, the menu was either not entitled to copyright protection in the first place, or if it was, that protection has now ended. What is more, if copyright did still exist, the chances of finding a legal owner are vanishingly small.

The reason I suspect copyright would not apply is that a menu is a simple list of facts (the dishes being served at the meal). There would be little or no creative effort on the part of the person drawing up the menu, and so it seems unlikely to qualify as a work of literature, especially under law applicable at the time (the 1842 Copyright Act) which was much narrower in its definition of a work.

However if we assume that it was protected by copyright, because the name of the author is unknown, we can apply the rule set out in section 12 (3)(a) CDPA:
(3) If the work is of unknown authorship, copyright expires—
  • (a) at the end of the period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was made, [...]
Hence the work would have ceased to be in copyright on 1 January 1976.

Even if the name of the author was known, he would have had to have survived two world wars and the Spanish flu epidemic of 1919, and lived at least until 1 January 1945 for copyright to still exist in the menu today. And of course if that were the case, it takes us no closer to discovering the current owner of the right. The work would be an 'orphan'.

I think you can safely use the menu in whatever manner you wish without worrying about infringing copyright.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
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