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Old June 25th, 2011, 08:23 AM   #1
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Getting permission to use photos

I am producing a documentary that contains photos of a semi-famous person (he's well known in a limited field), and before getting irreversibly into it, want to get appropriate permissions to use the photos. I am looking for advice to get over all the hurdles, because, so far, I have run into a blank wall.

Here are salient points.

1. The subject died in 1959.
2. The pictures I am using were taken from biographical publications about him. One was written in the 1990s.
2. I don't know how to find out who has the rights to the photos. In my experience, trying to contact book publishers is like blowing bubbles in a hurricane.
3. I have tried to contact his son (age 82) by mail, but have had no response.
4. I have contacted the library that holds his professional papers, but they have no photos.

Any advise about how to streamline this search at the lowest cost, (ie. a specialty lawyer is way out of the question) would be hugely appreciated.
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Old June 25th, 2011, 09:41 AM   #2
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Re: Getting permission to use photos

Put simply, your balancing act is between cost and speed. You have to figure out which is more important and lean to that side.

Hiring someone who does production research will make your life easier but cost.

I deal with similar issues with music licensing where I know how to find the info but once a request is made, I've gotten responses as quickly as a day and others months later if at all. crazy part is we are essentially saying "we want to pay you!"

This is part of why my last documentary took 2-1/2 years to make! And luckily the subject of ours owned most of the photos and all of the film so there was minimal research. We did have a few newspapers to contact for photos and a few old magazines which don't exist any more and it was a pain but just required time.

I think the book publishers are the best resource as they had to get similar permissions. Offer them money for their time. This will usually speed up the process.

Stating the obvious but the second you use a piece of material without permission, they will find you! Amazing how that works!
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Old June 26th, 2011, 06:12 AM   #3
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Re: Getting permission to use photos

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Siegel View Post
I am producing a documentary that contains photos of a semi-famous person (he's well known in a limited field), and before getting irreversibly into it, want to get appropriate permissions to use the photos. I am looking for advice to get over all the hurdles, because, so far, I have run into a blank wall.

Here are salient points.

1. The subject died in 1959.
2. The pictures I am using were taken from biographical publications about him. One was written in the 1990s.
2. I don't know how to find out who has the rights to the photos. In my experience, trying to contact book publishers is like blowing bubbles in a hurricane.
3. I have tried to contact his son (age 82) by mail, but have had no response.
4. I have contacted the library that holds his professional papers, but they have no photos.

Any advise about how to streamline this search at the lowest cost, (ie. a specialty lawyer is way out of the question) would be hugely appreciated.
You need to determine who made the photos and under what circumstances. So check the fine print in those publications and see who or what stock agency is credited with the photos if it's listed. Copyright starts out as the property of the photographer unless he is working under a work-for-hire situation such as a staff photographer on a magazine or newspaper, in which case it belongs to the employer. Then you need to track down where it went from there ... did the book publisher license the photos used in the book or did they buy the rights outright? Was there a stock agency in the middle or not? Does the subject have an estate that is handling on-going usage ofhis likeness, etc (like the estates of Marilym Monroe, John Wayne, etc are on-going entities making as much money in death as they made while alive). Research to see if they do and who manages it - in addition to securing permission from the copyright owner on the photograph you may need to secure a release from the estate as well. It may be a PITA to deal with the book publishers but ultimately there might not be any alternative.

See if you can find alternate sources of those images ... search Bettman Archive or Corbus etc
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