Victorian illustrations

Tracing copyright owners and asking permission.
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KfK
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Victorian illustrations

Post by KfK »

I wish to publish some pictures from Victorian artists in a new publication and have three different problems tracing whether this is allowable:
1. Pictures in a magazine published in 1880s. Appears to have been published by a small printing company about which I can find very little. I have my own photographs of the pictures made from a library copy.
2. PIctures from a private collection from 1870s printed in a book published in 1983. Publishers repeated fail to get back to me and are now not even acknowledging my e-mails. I own the book but would need to scan its pictures.
3. Pictures in a magazine from 1892, artist died in 1934. Magazine no longer exists, but publishing company does. When I contacted them to check that the pictures would be out of copyright they said their minimum fee was $200 per picture. Are they having me on? I have a scan of the article provided by a library.
Lots of people are telling me that so long as it's more than 70 years since the death of the author (or date of publication if the author is unknown) then I can reproduce the pictures freely. Is this correct in any / all of the above cases?
Help gratefully received.
Thank you.
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AndyJ
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Re: Victorian illustrations

Post by AndyJ »

Hi KfK,

Yes the general rule in the UK and also within the EU, is that after 70 years from the end of the year in which the author or artist died, their work is no longer in copyright. Where the author or artist's identity is unknown, then the test is a reasonable presumption of when they might have died (based on typical life expectancy for the period concerned) plus 70 years after their presumed date of death (see section 57 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988). In the UK there are some slightly different rules for photographs which were made before 1945, but they are not relevant here.

What is relevant is that under the older UK copyright legislation, works which were not published in the author's lifetime effectively had perpetual copyright until such time as the works were lawfully published. Today this anomaly still exists for unpublished works made before 1st August 1989, but subsequent legislation means that all remaining unpublished works will have their copyright ended* on 31 December 2039 (that is to say 50 years after the coming into force of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act. Again this doesn't really affect most of the works you have mentioned, except for your example in paragraph 2. If the 1983 publication was the first publication of these pictures, then they are protected by copyright until the 1st January 2034, because the 1956 Copyright Act stipulated that the copyright period once a work was postumously published was to be 50 years from the end of the year of publication. And if this is the case, the copyright is not owned by the publishers of the book, but whoever lays claim to the copyright itself. There is an entirely separate argument to be had about whether the 1983 book 'lawfully' published the pictures. The fact that the owner of the collection allowed the pictures to be reproduced would only be lawful if he could prove that he also owned the copyright in the pictures. If he was the direct heir of the original artist this would probably be the case but if he was a collector who bought the pictures at an auction it is far less likely that he is the copyright owner. In the latter case, since lawful publication had not yet occurred, the pictures could remain in copyright until the end of 2039!

So to summarise, cases 1 and 3 are clearly in the public domain, but go carefully over the pictures from the private collection if they were first (lawfully) published in 1983. I wonder if the fact that the publishers are failing to engage with you is an indication that they are not at all sure of their position legally. If you can find any evidence of an earlier publication of the works, or indeed you are able to locate the copyright owner, possibly by tracking down the owner of the collection, that might be a way of resolving the issue.

*This only applies to unpublished works where the author had already died 20 year before the 1st August 1989.
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
KfK
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Re: Victorian illustrations

Post by KfK »

Thank you AndyJ, that is a most helpful and comprehensive reply. I'm glad I won't have to pay $200!
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