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Old June 2nd, 2007, 09:38 PM   #1
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Using photos from WWI? Copyright?

If I buy someone's private photo off ebay can I legally use it in a doc? What about using photos from a book from 1919? Anyone have any ideas? I'm doing a documentary and I want to throw in a few photos of how awful things looked in Belgium during the great war. Curious if anyone has any guesses as to the copyright laws.
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Old June 3rd, 2007, 05:04 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by Matt Buys View Post
If I buy someone's private photo off ebay can I legally use it in a doc? What about using photos from a book from 1919? Anyone have any ideas? I'm doing a documentary and I want to throw in a few photos of how awful things looked in Belgium during the great war. Curious if anyone has any guesses as to the copyright laws.
Always check with a lawyer before relying on anything you read online and I ain't one of them critters.

Remember that an unlimited number of prints of a photo can be made from the same negative so in that sense the photo you possess is a copy even if only one print was actually ever made. But even so and assuming the photo you purchased is the only copy of it that exists, buying the original or sole copy of a copyrightable work isn't the same thing as buying the copyright - that's a totally separate thing altogether. The copyright exists from the moment the work is fixed into tangible form, belongs to the creator of the work, lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years in most cases, and passes to their estate when they die. Buying an original signed print of Adam's "Moonrise" for $500,000 doesn't mean you can make and sell copies of it. So purchasing an original photo does not mean in itself that you don't have to be concerned about copyright - you need to know when the photo was created, etc. If the person who made the photograph lived past 1937 the photo is copyrightable whether it was registered or not and has probably not yet entered the public domain, copyright still belonging to the creator's estate.

The book is probably okay - books and other works published in the US before 1923 are in the public domain. But note, the copyright on a photo appearing in a book is separate from the copyright on the book itself - publishing a photo in a book is done by securing permission to use the photo, not purchasing the copyright outright, thus leading to the paradoxical situation where the book itself is in the public domain while some of its content is still under copyright.
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