Permissions for collaged vintage postcards

Tracing copyright owners and asking permission.
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Caz567
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Permissions for collaged vintage postcards

Post by Caz567 »

Hi. I am hoping you can help me do the right thing please.

I am an artist who, amongst other things, works with old postcards and collages other images onto them. This year I have made some with a seasonal theme and had them printed to give as Christmas cards. They are only for family at friends at the moment but I would like to look at selling them locally next year.

The postcards are all early twentieth century, so pre 1957. I have gathered from your excellent website, that these should therefore, not need copyright permissions. However, the other elements are all taken from an illustrated children’s dictionary. This was published 50 years ago in 1951 by Collins. The artist was GW Backhouse who I have managed to establish, died in 1978. Would the copyright belong to the artist or to the publisher? Will I need permission, and if so how do I establish who from, and obtain it?

Thank you very much for your help.
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AndyJ
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Re: Permissions for collaged vintage postcards

Post by AndyJ »

Hi,

I'm not sure where you read that anything published before 1957 is OK to use, but I think you may have misunderstood what was being said. 1st June 1957 marks a milestone on the development of copyright law as it is the date when the 1956 Copyright Act came into force. However it didn't really change anything as far as the illustrations on postcards are concerned. Confusingly, we need to treat photographs separately from other sorts of illustrations, such as engravings, line drawings and cartoons etc. The latter were protected both before and after the 1956 Act for the lifetime of the artist plus 50 years after their death. Any images in this category which were still in copyright in 1995 then had an extra 20 years added to the period after death, meaning that it would be necessary for an artist to have died before 1 January 1951 in order for his/her work to now be in the public domain.

For photographs, the rule is somewhat different: up until the 1988 Copyright Designs and Patents Act, copyright in all photographs lasted for 50 years from the date the image was made, and then expired. As originally enacted the 1988 CDPA made any new photographs subject to the same rules as other artistic works, that is, the lifetine of the photographer plus 50 years after their death, but it didn't apply retrospectively (the 1988 Act came into force on 1 August 1989). However the same EU laws which caused the 1995 change affecting other artistic works, also acted retrospectively to any existing photograph still in copyright in 1995, automatically making it subject to the new term of the author's lifetime plus 70 years. Thus only photographs made before 1945* completely escaped the new rules and are now in the public domain. It actually slightly more complicated than this, where a photograph was first published elsewhere in Europe or the author was French, German or Spanish, so if you think that may apply to any of the postcards you wish to use, please come back and ask about that.

So with all that in mind, the illustrations in the 1951 Collins dictionary are likely to be in copyright unless you are sure that the artist died some time before publication occurred. Thus as you know that GW Backhouse was the artist, copyright will last until the end of 2048 and you would need permission to use his work as things stand today. This rule applies irrespective of who actually owned or continues to own the copyright. For a work like the children's dictionary, I think it is highly likely that the publisher will have commissioned the illustrations on an exclusive basis and they will own the copyright today. You would need to get permission from the publishers. In other cases where you are not sure whether it is the publisher or artist's heirs who might own the copyright today it is probably best to assume that it's the publisher. Even if it isn't them, they are probably in a good position to identify any heirs as they may still be paying them royalties. If you can't find a successor company to the original publisher, or just want to find an artist's heirs, it is worth checking with the Design and Artists Copyright Society to see if they have a record of the artist. Failing that, after a diligent but fruitless search for the putative copyright owner today, you could apply for an orphan works licence to use the image(s) you wish to modify, without the risk of being sued if some owner comes forward later.

*However while photographs made after 1945 would have been affected by the change to the new duration of lifetime+70 years, where the photographer had actually died before 1 January 1951, and he was not a French, German or Spanish subject, then his work will now be in the public domain.
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Caz567
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Re: Permissions for collaged vintage postcards

Post by Caz567 »

Thank you for your reply that is very helpful.

I am sorry if my question details were not clear. The collages I have made contain elements from two sources only. The artist drawn illustrations from the dictionary, and vintage photo sepia topographic postcards of various places. These range from approx 1900 to 1940 in date I would estimate. It is these postcards I thought I had read would be exempt. My apologies if I was mistaken.

I thought the illustrations would need permission and you have kindly confirmed that for me.
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AndyJ
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Re: Permissions for collaged vintage postcards

Post by AndyJ »

Hi Caz,

Thanks for claryfing that. Since the postcards only feature photographs and they date no later than 1940, you are right and there shouldn't be an issue with 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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