Copyright in a nineteenth century ‘logo’?

Tracing copyright owners and asking permission.
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Victorian_reader
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Copyright in a nineteenth century ‘logo’?

Post by Victorian_reader »

I help run a literary society devoted to the works of a popular Victorian author who died in 1901. From the late 1880s their UK publisher issued this author’s works with a ‘logo’: the author’s initials in a distinctive fancy typeface, surrounded by a little decorative frame. The publisher’s name does not appear in any part of this device. This decoration was used up till about 1914, stamped in gold on the front binding; it is not used on any actual printed pages. We want to create a logo for our own current literary society, by vectorising the old device from a scan or a photograph of a physical book owned by us, and encircling it with our society’s name: ‘Our Favourite Author Appreciation Society’, as it were. The designer of the original device must be long dead, but the publishing firm is still in existence, although it has been taken into a huge multi-national group. (The publisher no longer issues the author’s books.) But does this successor publisher still own rights to the original device? We would want to use our society's new logo on letterheads, leaflets, publicity materials, our website etc.; as well as on such things as cards, bags, bookmarks, badges and souvenirs which we would sell or give away.

Thank you for all the information on this site -- I have read and learned a lot from it over the past few days, but haven't quite found an answer to my problem.

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AndyJ
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Re: Copyright in a nineteenth century ‘logo’?

Post by AndyJ »

Hi Victorian_reader,

Any work made before the 1911 Copyright Act would have been subject to a copyright term of 28 years from the date of its first publication. Works still in copyright on the date the 1911 Act came into force (1 July 1912) were then protected by the new term brought in by the Act of the lifetime of the author or artist plus 50 years from the end of the year in which he or she died. From this it can be seen that the logo (as an artistic work) was probably in copyright on 1 July 1912 and so would have benefitted by this copyright term extension. I think it is reasonable to assume that the artist responsible for the logo would not have lived beyond around 1940, meaning that copyright would have expired no later than 1990. This is fortunate because had copyright still been running on 1 July 1995 it would have benefitted from an additional 20 years of protection due to new legislation in that year. But even if had done, that extra twenty years would have elapsed some time before 2020. So I think we can reasonably assume that copyright has now ended. This would be so, even if the publishers were still using the logo today.

I think we can also dismiss any possibility that the logo was registered as a trade mark. Even if it had been at the beginning, it would have had to have been renewed periodically since that initial registration to be valid today, and since the publisher has not used it for many years, that seems highly unlikely. There are a few trade marks which were first registered in the nineteenth century that are still current today ('Bovril' first registered on 02 November1886 is one such example) but they are the exception.

So on that basis, I think we can confidently say that the logo is not now protected by any intellectual property rights and your society can freely adapt it as you wish.
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
Victorian_reader
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Re: Copyright in a nineteenth century ‘logo’?

Post by Victorian_reader »

Thank you very much indeed, Andy, for explaining all these considerations so clearly!
Grateful Victorian_reader
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