re copyrighting old photographs

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
Post Reply
photogav
New Member
New  Member
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Aug 18, 2016 9:41 am
Location: Dorset, UK

re copyrighting old photographs

Post by photogav » Thu Aug 18, 2016 9:51 am

Hello

What a great site and with useful information.

I have a question that has caused much head scratching. I recently discovered a set of old glass slides (late 1900s I guess). They are certainly before the 20th century.

This got me thinking. Is there a way under UK copyright law to re-copyright an image that has passed its original copyright date?

I ask because I may find a slide that would make a great print to sell. If I sold it there is no copyright to stop the buyer copying it and reselling. If I put them online there is no copyright to protect it from being used and sold by others.

I guess it is the same for a lot of classical music and historic picture libraries like Francis Frith.

Sorry for my rambling question. I hope you can shed some light on wat I can do to protect the images.

Nick Cooper
Experienced Member
Experienced Member
Posts: 84
Joined: Sun Jun 30, 2013 8:56 am

Post by Nick Cooper » Thu Aug 18, 2016 11:43 am

The term set for photographs in the 1911 Copyright Act is 50 years after the end of the year of creation of the photographic negative. If your example dates from no later than 1900, the copyright with have expired at the end of 1950 at the very latest, and would not have been revived or extended by any subsequent changes in legislation. In turn there is no way you can re-copyright the original image unless you make some substantial change to it (e.g. re-touching, hand colouring, etc.).

It is worth noting that many print and postcard companies spuriously claim ownership of copyright in photographs that are demonstrably now in the public domain.

User avatar
AndyJ
Oracle
Oracle
Posts: 1942
Joined: Fri Jan 29, 2010 12:43 am

Post by AndyJ » Thu Aug 18, 2016 1:03 pm

Hi photogav,

Nick's answer is perfectly correct.

Copyright is a designed to allow original authors to exploit their work; it isn't really intended to benefit entrepreneurs such as yourself who would, in effect, be exploiting someone else's creativity.

As Nick mentioned, there is a possibility that if you use sufficient skill and creativity in turning the glass plates into prints, you may be entitled to claim copyright in the prints themselves. It has certainly been done before and museum gift shops do a roaring trade in such things. Just don't expect a court to automatically agree with your claim, should you decide to try and sue someone who does copy your prints.
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

photogav
New Member
New  Member
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Aug 18, 2016 9:41 am
Location: Dorset, UK

Post by photogav » Fri Aug 19, 2016 10:13 am

Thanks Nick and Andy

You clarified what I though actually. I have started rescuing old glass slides from the 1900s and although I don't want to make a lot of money from them, recouping my costs would be good.

I had been approached by a print company who wanted to use them, but I figured without a copyright they could simply take my digital scan and print, sell and give me nothing since technically all I own is a bit of glass with chemicals on it.

I will be careful what I do with them from now on.

Thanks again for the advice. This is an extremely useful site. :)

Nick Cooper
Experienced Member
Experienced Member
Posts: 84
Joined: Sun Jun 30, 2013 8:56 am

Post by Nick Cooper » Fri Aug 19, 2016 10:23 am

Well, there's no reason you can't licence your supply of the images to the print company under a suitably worded contract, which is effectively what a lot of photo libraries do now (i.e. they charge for supplying an image for a specific use).

Post Reply