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MOON GODDESS
04-28-2005, 07:31 AM
OK, I know we are not all lawyers here, but I have searched the federal copyright site and still can't answer some of my questions, and neither can most lawyers without a lot of research!
I have a postcard collection some very old, but others with publishers and serial numbers listed on the back. None have an official copyright symbol listed. A few are from the 1930-50's. Most are older which I know are in the public domain (free of copyright)
Am I correct in assuming that most of these other cards are probably also in the public domain, or does the listing of a publisher change things?
I'm trying to avoid making a trip to Washington, but I have a feeling that is what I'll be doing.
If anyone knows a good site about copyright that answers questions beyond "This is what copyright is and what is copyrightable" Pleaseeeee, let me know about it.
Thanks. :cry:

Jaws
04-29-2005, 08:08 AM
It depends.

There are just too darned many variables here, ranging from country of origin to the exact date the photographs were taken. You need legal advice on this.

cattywampus
05-03-2005, 11:52 PM
You ought to be able to do this without going anywhere.

It was the Copyright Act of 1976 that established automatic copyright - the minute something is set in "tangible" form (capable of being moved about, which BTW a computer is) it's copyrighted. Someone told me that if you want to collect attorney's fees in case of a violation suit, you must register your work at the Copyright Office, but I have no idea if that's true or not.

If the postcards are old-looking, grimy, with penmanship from another era, I would use them and not worry about it. Those publishing houses have probably gone out of business long since, but you could run them through a SE and see what pops up.

I believe there's still controversy over the question of who owns the letter, the person who wrote it, or the person who has it in their possession? I'd like to have the answer to that.

Catty :Cake:

soloset
05-04-2005, 12:55 AM
If the postcards are old-looking, grimy, with penmanship from another era, I would use them and not worry about it. Those publishing houses have probably gone out of business long since, but you could run them through a SE and see what pops up.

This might be good practical advice for personal use but I'd be REALLY wary of using anything I didn't know I owned for any kind of commercial purposes. I seriously doubt anyone's going to get sued over the issue, but, hey, I wouldn't want to take the chance.


I believe there's still controversy over the question of who owns the letter, the person who wrote it, or the person who has it in their possession? I'd like to have the answer to that.

That's something I'd like to know too -- I have some old postcards with writing on one side. Is it okay for me to use a picture of the writing side? Or do I need to transcribe it? The person who originally wrote it is deceased, as is the person who it was written to, and I'm a direct descendant -- does any of that matter?

mommie4a
05-04-2005, 12:59 AM
Not to muddle things, since I can't remember the exact source, but I'm pretty certain that I read within the last few months that the writer of the letter is considered the owner of the correspondence. I know it's basic, but have you googled with those kinds of keywords? Checked www.findlaw.com (http://www.findlaw.com)? Maybe even a Lexis/Nexis search online, through your library or friendly neighborhood lawyer (if you happen to know one)?

Sorry can't be more helpful. Good luck. You need an intellectual property person I would guess. Hmm - antiques roadshow even?? Just not sure. Good luck -hope you'll share what you find out.

Medievalist
05-04-2005, 01:40 AM
If the postcards are old-looking, grimy, with penmanship from another era, I would use them and not worry about it. Those publishing houses have probably gone out of business long since, but you could run them through a SE and see what pops up.

I would not do that. Publishers go out of business, get consumed by others, and may even be bombed--but the rights don't disappear. Someone may well still have those rights.

Law Shark isn't talking out of his/its umm . . . hat.


I believe there's still controversy over the question of who owns the letter, the person who wrote it, or the person who has it in their possession? I'd like to have the answer to that.

Possession of the artifact is not the same as the copyright. I own a letter signed by Tolkien, to me. It is my letter.

I can't use it in a published work or a performance without permission because I don't own the copyright--the Tolkien estate owns the rights, and I have to have the Estate's permission to publish.

MOON GODDESS
05-04-2005, 02:48 AM
Thanks, everyone. I'm really no further along with this issue than I was before, and so have just decided to change my strategy and not use anything I think is in violation of copyright. The postcard publishers are too hard to trace, though I tend to agree that they are probably long out of business. Overseas companies are a different story and riskier, IMO.
I also read somewhere that writing on postcards and such, could still be under copyright, but don't remember where I saw that.
Anyway, thanks for all your help.

Jamesaritchie
05-04-2005, 07:31 PM
OK, I know we are not all lawyers here, but I have searched the federal copyright site and still can't answer some of my questions, and neither can most lawyers without a lot of research!
I have a postcard collection some very old, but others with publishers and serial numbers listed on the back. None have an official copyright symbol listed. A few are from the 1930-50's. Most are older which I know are in the public domain (free of copyright)
Am I correct in assuming that most of these other cards are probably also in the public domain, or does the listing of a publisher change things?
I'm trying to avoid making a trip to Washington, but I have a feeling that is what I'll be doing.
If anyone knows a good site about copyright that answers questions beyond "This is what copyright is and what is copyrightable" Pleaseeeee, let me know about it.
Thanks. :cry:


Thanks, everyone. I'm really no further along with this issue than I was before, and so have just decided to change my strategy and not use anything I think is in violation of copyright. The postcard publishers are too hard to trace, though I tend to agree that they are probably long out of business. Overseas companies are a different story and riskier, IMO.
I also read somewhere that writing on postcards and such, could still be under copyright, but don't remember where I saw that.
Anyway, thanks for all your help.

Out of business doesn't mean anything, nor does age automatically mean someone doesn't still own the rights. If you don't know for certain something is in the public domain, using it can be extremely risky. Odds are you'll get away with it, but if you don't, if the copyright owner turns up, you can, and probably will, be pulled into court.

The one thing you can almost always count on is that if whatever it is is newer than 1927, someone, somewhere, still owns the rights, even if the publisher is out of business. This doesn't mean you can't get away with using it, it just means you're taking a serious chance.

It's just really unwise to use anything newer than this without knowing for certain who owns the rights. Copyright may be hard for you to trace, but there's an excellent chance that whoever owns the copyright knows they own, even if you can't find them.

The writing on a postcard newer than 1927 is definitely still protected. Even when the writer dies, the rights are passed along to his family.

Even copyrighted items can, however, sometimes be used in certain kinds of articles and in certain situations, such as for educational purposes, scholarly articles, etc.

The best course, when not certain, is usually to give the publisher the facts and let them decide whether or not the situation allows the use of (possibly) copyrighted material.

Celeste
05-04-2005, 09:25 PM
Here's a link to an article titled "When do copyrights expire" and explains when a registered work is considered public domain:
http://www.ivanhoffman.com/expiration.html

I just skimmed through this, but it looked like it might be helpful:
http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ38b.pdf

Here's a link to copyright.gov's ''Duration of Copyright'' article:
http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap3.html

This reminds me of how Michael Jackson grabbed the copyrights to a collection of The Beatles songs worth 80 million dollars. Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson used to be friends. Jackson found out from McCartney during casual conversation while having lunch t'gether that the copyright on the songs were going to expire and he was going to reregister them, but Jackson snuck in before him and bought copyrights to the collection. Was a big fued between the two, which of course broke up their friendship. Because now Jackson profits from a collection of Beatles songs by grabbing the copyrights before McCartney was able to. Okay, okay... Now I'm rambling. Sorry. Lol...:Ssh:


I may be a little off on the specifics of the McCartney/Jackson copyright issue. But for anyone interested in reading about it....

Here's a link to an article explaining how Jackson bought copyright to The Beatles collection, as well as buying many other artists' music:
http://www.courierpress.com/ecp/gleaner_entertainment/article/0,1626,ECP_4478_3706075,00.html

MOON GODDESS
05-05-2005, 12:00 AM
Thanks, Celeste, your articles were interesting and helpful, as was the JAWS site.
To James ritchie: I was wondering where you got the 1927 date for public domain? Other articles I read put it earlier, but if it is 1927, that would help alot.
As for publishers or other agencies, I don't expect much help from them. They leave copyright to the writer to clear it seems, though I'm sure they don't want any problems, either.
Most of my material is photos and such taken by private people, some published, most not, and now in museums and such.
To tell you the truth, copyright is more trouble than it's worth and a bit ridiculous if you ask me.
The only copyright I will deal with in the future is my own!
Anyway, thanks everyone for your help, which is always welcomed.

Jaws
05-05-2005, 02:53 AM
The critical date for copyright is 01 January 1923. Anything published in the US before that date is definitely in the public domain in the US—but may not be elsewhere. I suspect that the 1927 was a tyop.

And, if I can offer a further resource on copyright term:
http://www.authorslawyer.com/c-term.shtml

Jamesaritchie
05-05-2005, 04:27 AM
The critical date for copyright is 01 January 1923. Anything published in the US before that date is definitely in the public domain in the USóbut may not be elsewhere. I suspect that the 1927 was a tyop.

And, if I can offer a further resource on copyright term:
http://www.authorslawyer.com/c-term.shtml

Not a typo, just a poor explanation. The absolute year is 1923, but an awful bunch of material from 1927 on back is also in the public domain. In fact, a good bit from 1931 on back is in public domain.

At any rate, while you KNOW it's in public domain before 1923, you generally only know it isn't from 1927 on. After 1927 you know it's almost certainly still under copyright protection. Before 1927 you have to check, and there's a good chance it won't be protected. Before 1923 you know you don't have to check.

It's wise, in fact, to check anything before 1949. It's amazing how many copyrights were not renewed by the owner, and so weren't covered by the 1976 act.

At some point, the 1923 date will start moving up year by year, but I'm not sure when that will be. Either 2018 or 2019, I think.

Mac H.
05-06-2005, 03:39 PM
The critical date for copyright is 01 January 1923. Anything published in the US before that date is definitely in the public domain in the USóbut may not be elsewhere.

Is it really that simple?

I thought that courts can sometimes decide that 'published' is not really 'published'.

For example:
1. The music for 'Happy Birthday to you' was first published in a songbook in 1893. (It was titled 'Good Morning to You' - by the Hill Sisters)
2. The origins of the lyrics for 'Happy Birthday to you' is unknown. But ...
3. The song (lyrics+music) was first published as a complete unit in 1924 by Robert H. Coleman. ('Happy Birthday to you' was published as the second verse to 'Good Morning to You'.)
4. Under the 'Disney Law' (sorry - the 'Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998' - which was championed by Disney at coincidentally about the same time that their early works were about to become public domain) the protection is 95 years from publication.

This would seem to suggest that:
* The copyright to the tune for 'Happy Birthday to you' expired years ago.
* The copyright to the words for 'Happy Birthday to you' is a little vague
* The copyright to the complete song of 'Happy Birthday to you' will expire in 2019. (1924 +95 = 2019)

However, it seems that the simple maths is wrong because in the original owners of 'Good Morning To You' (the Hill sisters) didn't give Coleman permission to publish his songbook in 1924 - so a 1934 court decision basically nullified the publication, and restarted the clock. So the 'official' date of publication for 'Happy Birthday to you' is really 1935 - with the Hill Sisters as the owner of the copyright.

So the real question is - If we try and do the right thing and use something that was published before 1923, how can we know whether some obscure court case has restarted the clock?

Would it be an 'innocent infringement'?

And the whole setup just didn't seem to make any sense - it means it is impossible to tell what the 'official' date of publication is - nor who the 'real' owner is.

For a hypothetical example, if I created a new song by singing an old poem by an unknown author with someone else's music, then I have created a new work. While I don't have permission to perform my new work without the music owner's permission, that doesn't mean that the music owner automatically becomes owner of the new work.

Yet this is what seems to have happened here - the copyright owner of the tune was given ownership of the new work. In my hypothetical example, surely by symmetry, if the owner of the poem came forward, wouldn't they have an equal claim that the ownership of the new song is THEIR entire property ?

I really don't understand law - I defer to Jaw's opinion on this ....

Mac

Jamesaritchie
05-06-2005, 06:03 PM
Is it really that simple?

I thought that courts can sometimes decide that 'published' is not really 'published'.

Mac

Almost anything is possible, but you can almost always tell whether or not something has been published. Let's just say the odds are so incredibly low for anything before 1923 that there's no practical risk of any sort.

But that's why you check, I guess.