Question about vintage art copyright- UPDATE!

dinazina's picture

This isn't related to type, but some of you must've dealt with this before. THANKS in advance!

Below is a spread I'd like to include in my book. The topic here is retro costume influences. I'd like to refer to the silent film era and the Art Nouveau classics of Mucha. How do I find out if I'm allowed to use these 100-year-old images?

On the left is an image of an obscure (in this country) silent film star with the look I wanted. I found the high-res image posted on a Flickr site that was an homage to the era. I asked the owner where this image came from, if it was copyrighted, and could I print it. Got no response, which makes me wonder if it IS copyrighted.

On the right are Mucha art images I've seen on several websites, but will printing them high-res (in black and white) get me into trouble with the Mucha Museum, for instance?

blank's picture

Anything pre-1927 has passed into the public domain. After 1927 things get messy depending on what country you’re in, what country the item was created/copyrighted in, and whether or not the copyrights have been renewed over the years. But there’s a nasty catch—reproductions of the images are copyrighted. For example, you can’t just scan a photo out of a book to reproduce without permission; you would need to photograph or scan a work yourself.

I would be very careful about reprinting the images from Flickr. Sure they might be posted by someone scanning his antique photos, but they could also be Corbis stock photos that got posted to the internet. If you really need to use them and can’t get clear copies, consult a copyright lawyer before you print them. As for the Mucha images, contact the museum; most museums will sell you their images for very reasonable fees that they very much deserve given the cost and effort of preserving and photographing.

Nick Shinn's picture

In the past, I have bought vintage film stills from the BFI.
They are amazing, especially the publicity shots -- 8 x 10 photo prints from high quality negatives.
I'm not sure what the BFI offers now.

Theunis de Jong's picture

..most museums will sell you their images for very reasonable fees that they very much deserve given the cost and effort of preserving and photographing...

Might I add my personal experience with this: most (so far, all!) musea are used to this kind of requests, and will promptly send you an incredibly high quality scan or photograph. It's always a joy to see something like that popping into my mail box -- I always zoom in on every tiny detail, to really appreciate individual brush strokes from up close. Not something you could pull off in a museum, peering over paintings with a huge magnifier.

riccard0's picture

Re: Flickr photos. They have a copyright statement. If it says "All rights reserved", the only hope is that the poster will answer to your request. Otherwise, still on Flickr, you can specifically search for freely reproducible images (Creative Commons, Library of Congress, etc.).
Re: Mucha. The images are still copyrighted:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Alfons_Mucha

dinazina's picture

riccardo, that page says:
"Mucha's European works will fall in the public domain on January 1, 2010" [70 years after artists' death]

My book should be ready to go about 2 weeks before that date, should I worry? Maybe not! Especially since they are black & white, only 2 inches high.

The film star is not one of the well-known Hollywood names like Theda Bara. She is Russian, and I haven't found that picture anywhere on the Internet except that one Flickr page. I wonder: if I posterize the image, would it be diffent enough from the original to not even count. Consult a copyright lawyer? I would rather delete the image from the page, it's not crucial.

Thanks everyone.

blank's picture

My book should be ready to go about 2 weeks before that date, should I worry?

Just hold off on going to press until January 2.

…I haven’t found that picture anywhere on the Internet except that one Flickr page.

Have you tried looking for a photo in period materials in libraries and other collections? The internet isn’t the only source for images.

dinazina's picture

>Just hold off on going to press until January 2.<

Are you joking, or serious?

About researching in library stacks and other public and private collections...I'm allergic to book dust...plus this isn't that kind of scholarly book. It's merely my own brilliant observations, intended to get Tribal bellydancers all inspired and creative. So maybe rethink my vintage images.

What about when someone makes a dingbat font with approximations of famous faces and images in high contrast? Like, I don't know, Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe? Is that a copyight violation? At what point is it no longer copying?

blank's picture

Are you joking, or serious?

Serious. It makes total sense to me.

At what point is it no longer copying?

It depends. If you’re doing it for commercial purposes you’re probably falling outside of fair use and should err on the side of caution.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

My book should be ready to go about 2 weeks before that date, should I worry? Maybe not! Especially since they are black & white, only 2 inches high.

The film star is not one of the well-known Hollywood names like Theda Bara.

That is not the way lawyers think. If you break the law, it makes no difference whether the actress is well-known or not, or if the images are "only" 2 inches high! You've still broken the law!

And James is not joking.

dirtcastle's picture

If you are publishing a book of with vintage photos, it would seem like the least you would do is take the time to figure whether it is OK to publish them. Why wouldn't you take the effort to find out?

Don McCahill's picture

>Just hold off on going to press until January 2

Could you go to press on the initial date, but just not offer to sell the materials until after that date? Does publication = printing? I would think that if the materials are not made available to the public, then they are not actually published.

dinazina's picture

dirtcastle:
>If you are publishing a book of with vintage photos, it would seem like the least you would do is take the time to figure whether it is OK to publish them. Why wouldn’t you take the effort to find out?

That is what I'm doing now! Otherwise why would I ask?

But if you say I actually have to consult a copyright lawyer (at considerable expense, I'm sure) I will leave those 3 images out. Or replace them with my own simple line drawings to illustrate my point. I can't believe that would be considered a copyright violation.

Si_Daniels's picture

>That is what I’m doing now! Otherwise why would I ask?

I've not read this entire thread, but typically one would use a professional copyright attorney for legal advice of this kind, and not a forum load of font lovers... Just sayin'.

dirtcastle's picture

For type issues... we got heavyweights. But for licensing vintage images, even copyright lawyers must often do extensive research to track down the origins or rights of an image. Unless the image is well-known, it will be a matter of research. And sometimes no one knows for sure (e.g., the library of congress... even they don't know about the rights to many of their images).

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Re all remarks about the size of an image not mattering: There is a recognized type of fair use of copyrighted material, eg "quoting" and illustration in certain works. If you do not use illustrations per se, but in the course of an evaluation or such, you may use an image, providing it is not too large (in the sense that the illustration is not the main item on a page, I guess).
I know this is kind of a gray area, but there are many precedents.

In your case I would tone down the size of pictures of 'dubious' origin.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use

. . .
Bert Vanderveen BNO

PublishingMojo's picture

I found the high-res image posted on a Flickr site

Is it hi-res enough that you can see if there are halftone dots? If so, the person who posted it probably scanned it out of a book. In that case, continue your online research in the hope of finding the publisher, and contact them, because if any copyright records exist, a publisher is the most likely to have them.

What about when someone makes a dingbat font with approximations of famous faces and images in high contrast?

For better or for worse, US copyright law doesn't protect fonts, but it does protect photographs.

if you say I actually have to consult a copyright lawyer (at considerable expense, I’m sure) I will leave those 3 images out.

A worst-case scenario is that you take a chance, publish the picture in the book, and it is seen by a someone who turns out to be a legitimate copyright holder, and he/she successfully sues to have all copies of your book recalled from bookstores at your expense and destroyed, along with all copies in your own inventory, preventing you from earning back any of the money you invested in printing and binding. Now that's a considerable expense.

The good news is, that's very unlikely to happen with such an old and obscure image. But my advice is, never gamble more than you can afford to lose.

dinazina's picture

Thanks everyone for all this advice.

I decided not to use the old photo. It was just an idea to illustrate my point on that page.

But for your viewing pleasure, here it is on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/truusbobjantoo/2221218291/sizes/o/
It has no halftone dots - it looks like a scan of an old postcard.

This person has literally thousands of such images posted and can't own the rights to all, although he's posted: "All rights reserved." As I said, he never answered my query.

Wikipedia sees to use the guideline, any photo published in the U.S before 1923 is in the public domain. Outside the U.S, it seems to be less clear. Of course, if anyone objects, they can easily delete the image.

I did write to the Mucha museum.

dirtcastle's picture

That's a great image collection. I can see why the flickr member might have been unresponsive if you asked about the origins of a particular photo.

dinazina's picture

The Mucha Museum answered my request!!

"The museum has passed on to me your mail. Your request is approved subject to your crediting the copyright in the image to Mucha Trust 2009 and to sending us two copies of the publication for our library. You should also mention the Mucha Museum in your article which is one of the most visited museums in the Czech Republic.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,
John Mucha,
President"

He actually must be related to THE Mucha!! I'm excited!

dirtcastle's picture

Congrats!

dinazina's picture

He is the grandson of the artist. According to Wikipedia, he established the Mucha Museum after the artist had been nearly forgotton in his home country.

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