Legal question from a noob.

Discussion in 'General Shop Talk' started by scorpion_tyr, Mar 25, 2010.

  1. scorpion_tyr

    scorpion_tyr No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I recently bought an 35mm from a pawn shop. I didn't buy it for the camera but more for the lens. Anyway, when the guy rang me up he remembered that the camera came with a case. Once I got home I found there were 7 rolls of used, but undeveloped film in the case. Curiosity got the best of me and I took them to Wal-Mart and had them processed and the pictures put on a CD. They turned out to be just normal pictures from some guys road trip. Nothing professional at all about them. I went back to the pawn shop and they located the guy who sold them the camera and I got his pictures back to him.

    So here's my question. If there had been some type of obviously professional pictures, but for simplicity's sake, no people or human models, could I legally sell them? I know usually the photographer owns the copyright to the images when he presses the shutter release, but since he sold the negatives, and I bought them, would I now own the copyright, and therefore be able to do whatever I wanted with them?

    I would probably do the same thing I did in this case, but I'm just curious.

    Thanks.
     
  2. flashgordio

    flashgordio TPF Noob!

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    dono about usa..but a case in papers this week in england..someone bought at auction a trunk that belonged to agather christie for a few k..she had it for a good few years...inside the trunk was a locked strong box with no key..everyonr thout it was empty..curiosity got the bettr of her oner day and she forced it open inside were jewelry and other valuble worth tens of times more than she paid for trunk..now the auctioneer wants back the valubles as they were not included in the discription of the original sale...ther has been similar cases
     
  3. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Firstly, I'm no lawyer...so you should probably ask one.

    Image copyright is something like an intellectual property, not a physical property. So having, even owning the negatives, doesn't give one the copyright to the images.
    However, someone might have a hard time proving, & thus enforcing a copyright if you had legal possession of said negatives.
     
  4. KmH

    KmH Helping photographers learn to fish Supporting Member

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    It is my understanding that in the US copyright can only be transferred with a document that transfers copyright ownership.

    You could check on the web site of the US Copyright Office: www.copyright.gov or consult with an attorney trained in intellectual property law, as Mike suggested.
     
  5. TheSolicitor

    TheSolicitor TPF Noob!

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    Before I begin, let me get this out of the way....I am a 3rd Year law student. I am not an attorney, and I am not licensed to practice law in any jurisdiction. What I am about to say is strictly limited to the terms of your hypothetical, and is not to be construed as legal advice. It is a response to a hypothetical: an answer to a "what if." If this discussion is taken, wrongly, as legal advice, to the detriment of the user, the I carry no liability or responsibility for any negative outcomes that may arise as a result of relying on this information. If you wish to receive a binding answer, it is best to contact a lawyer in your area, and retain them to answer your question.

    These answers will be general in nature.

    Your first question: Could you legally sell them?
    --Yes. You could legally sell the images, as printed, but you would not be selling the copyright of the images to the purchaser as you do not possess the copyright, you cannot transfer the rights to another.

    Second question: He sold the negatives.
    --Actually, he didn't. While one could make a compelling argument about him abandoning the property, it's too nebulous to get into. When he went to the pawnshop, he went to sell the camera and the lens. He likely did not intend to sell the photographic negatives because they would have no value to the pawnshop or to any of the people who would come in. In order to sell something, he must intend to sell the item, and the purchaser must intend to purchase them. When there is a mistake, unilateral or mutual, the transaction may be unwound.

    Third question: Do whatever you want with them?
    --Well, it depends on what you mean by "whatever." You cannot sell them as your own. You cannot use them to extort, blackmail, or otherwise harass anyone with the images captured on the film. Aside from that, you can pretty much do what you like with them, but if the original owner has the ability to tell you that they're his and prove it, you will likely have to return them to him.

    Hopefully that gives you a greater insight into your questions! If you have more questions, I'd contact a local attorney and see what she has to say. I hope your Friday is excellent, and your weekend is outstanding!
     
  6. scorpion_tyr

    scorpion_tyr No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Thanks for all the answers! They gave me a much better understanding of the whole copyright and ownership issue.
     

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