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French Vintage Family Photos & Photo Stock Agency Use

Posted: Fri Jan 14, 2022 4:11 pm
by BMcTavish
Hello. I have come into possession of about 100 family photos from an old French woman you died a spinster. She had no immediate children. Her estate was left to two nieces, both of whom are not at all interested in the 100s of family photos dating from the early 1900s up to the 1950s this woman had. All of the subjects in the photos have long since passed away. I work with a book publishing Stock Photo Agency who are always looking for vintage photos. Can I use any of these photos and allow the Stock Photo Agency to sell any of these images on my behalf? The agency supplies images to book publishers all over the world. Thanks for any feedback on this.

Re: French Vintage Family Photos & Photo Stock Agency Use

Posted: Fri Jan 14, 2022 9:15 pm
by AndyJ
Hi BMcT,

Possession of the photographs and ownership of the copyright are two different things. Unless the old French woman was the person who took the photographs, her heirs may be irrelevant. Had she been married and her husband was the photographer, then it would have been safe to assume that she inherited the copyright. However as you say she was a spinster, so it would be necessary to have credible evidence (a will for instance) to show how she came into possession of the photographs, before any assumption can be made about where the copyright ownership lies today.

And we also need to distinguish between economic rights and moral rights in this case. This is because these are essentially French photographs, and you need to be aware that French law takes the moral rights of the authors of copyright works very seriously. Moral rights encompass such things using the photographs in way which does not dishonour the photographer, protects his or her right to be credited as the author of the works, and the right for the photographs not to be falsely credited to another person. These rights are perpetual under French law and they can apply as equally to humble family photographs as they do to the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson. I mention this because if these photographs were taken by a more distant relative (an uncle or cousin, say) whose descendants today recognise them, you could be inviting a dispute if you assume that there is absolutely no separate claim to the copyright.

As far as the economic rights are concerned, if you are sure you know the provenance of all the images, and you are reasonably sure that the probable photographer died more than 70 years ago, you should be free to authorise the stock agency to release them. But because they would be out of copyright, neither you nor the agency can claim copyright in them and you have to accept that they may be freely copied by others. For this reason, it would be advisable to only use low resolution versions of the photographs on the stock site to advertise them. The stock agency can impose contractual terms under which they release the higher resolution images to licensees, but this would rely on contract law, not copyright law, for its enforcement.

And finally, if you know the name of the photographer, it would be sensible to credit him or her, just to avoid any French repercussions.

I hope this helps.

Re: French Vintage Family Photos & Photo Stock Agency Use

Posted: Sat Jan 15, 2022 10:12 am
by BMcTavish
Thank you so much for your very detailed and helpful response. I really appreciate you taking the time to write and post it. I think I also need to discuss all this with the Stock Photo Agency.