Copyright in Old Photographs

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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Copyright in Old Photographs

Post by DFG32 » Mon Jul 09, 2007 3:05 pm

Hello. I’m looking for information on copyright in old photographs.

After reading several books, there seems to be a lot of confusion from the authors as each has come up with different conclusions, so I am therefore writing to ask for some clarification as I am looking to publish a few images from 1937 and 1939 that, under UK law, should be out of copyright.

According to my research, copyright in existing photographs lasted for 50 years from the date of creation (whether published or unpublished, and whether the author was known or unknown) for all images taken before 01/06/1957, under the 1956 & 1988 copyright acts. This is shown in Schedule 1, section 12 (2)(C) of the 1988 copyright act (shown on the Jenkins lawyers website)

However, under the new 1995 EU “harmonising” regulations, copyright can be revived for works that were out of copyright in the UK on 01/07/1995 if it “could” have been protected in another EEC county on that date (according to the patent office website)

I want to know if the above is correct, and also about revived copyright, especially the “could” section. What are the terms for a picture being revived? Does the copyright in other EEC countries cover works that only existed in the UK and hadn’t been taken in or published in any other country?

These pictures would have expired in the UK in 1987 & 1989, but according to that patent office website, you would have to study the laws of all 11 of the other EU countries in 1995 to determine if they were covered elsewhere(!)

So, are they out of copyright or not?

Any help woud be greatly appreciated.

Many thanks.

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Post by CopyrightAid » Mon Jul 09, 2007 11:54 pm

The current duration of copyright in artistic work is life of the author plus a further 70 years and this was life of the author plus 50 years prior to 1995.

Yes there were some extensions when the harmonising legislation came in, but I know of no easy way to check this. Given the publication dates of 1937-1939 (and bearing in mind that the photographer probably lived for some time after that date), I would have to say that it seems unlikely that the work would be yet in the public domain.

As a quick reference on these matters, I find that the following chart is a great help:

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