Published cartoons 1890-1920

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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Published cartoons 1890-1920

Post by conzo36 »


I wish to publish comic strips that are over 100 years old, drawn by an artist who died in 1957. They would be published in an academic publication. I'm getting two competing bits of advice on this:

(1) According to DACS, until 70 years after the death of the artist, I need to apply for a license and pay royalties.

(2) According to a colleague with some experience of this, because I'm talking about a published image, rather than an original drawing for example, then the copyright would have run out after 25 years, meaning that reproduction of the published image is unproblematic.

Can anybody clear this up for me? Obviously I'm hoping option 2 is the correct one- my colleague reckons it's black-and-white, legally speaking..


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Re: Published cartoons 1890-1920

Post by AndyJ »

Hi Michael,

Sorry to disappoint you but DACS is right and your colleague is wrong. Assuming the artist was British or first publication of the strips occurred in the UK, that is.

What your colleague is referring to is the publisher's right in the typographical layout of a publication. As the description suggests, this protects the layout, that is the whole assembly of the text and graphics, on the page. It doesn't affect the copyright in the underlying work(s) within the layout. So the cartoon strip, whether you wish to copy it from a newspaper page or the original artwork, has its term of copyright determined by the lifetime of the artist plus 70 years, just as the text of a written article next to it would have its copyright based on the lifetime of the author. This would apply even if the artist had been an employee of the newspaper or magazine at the time, meaning that the employer would actually have owned the copyright.

If the artist was American and his work was first published in the USA, then things are quite different. Prior to the US Copyright Act 1976, copyright in th USA only came into being if certain formalities were followed. One of these was registration. Failure to register a work, or renew the registration after 28 years, could mean that the individual work was no longer protected. Furthermore all works produced and first published in the USA before 1 Jan 1923 are now in the public domain. Here's a moderately easy-to-follow guide to how this works. If you think that the artist was American and his work was first published in the USA, it might be worth checking the US Copyright Office database to see if it was registered, although you need a lot of patience to do a thorough search. If you find that the cartoons are in the public domain in the USA, they will also be so in the UK because UK law will not impose a longer period of protection than is available in the country of origin (see section 12(6)).
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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