Question about copyright-Any professionals in here?

Not open for further replies.


TPF Noob!
Jul 26, 2003
Reaction score
Louisville KY
I have tried to research this question but cant seem to find a straight answer,so any help would be appreciated.Here goes,I purchased these awesome old photos(negatives) this old man took back in the early 1930's,lots of Harleys women and leather,I had a few printed and they are too cool!I have the negatives and these pics were never copyright(his personal pics),he is now deceased.My question is could I copyright the photos?In my research it seems the first requirement is that you have to be the original "author" or heir,and I am not.I purchased from the original author(the old man)Any hope? :roll:
Well I gave 5.00 for the box.He said he did'nt care what I do with them.Sadly he died soon after.I could probably find the receipt.He was quite a "rebel",later survived Pearle Harbor(brother was killed) and sailed on a destroyer in the pacific and europe,winning WWII.
unfortunately, unless you have it in writing that copyright has been transferred, you are out of luck. out of luck if you want to use them for commercial purposes, that is. print the heck out of them for personal reasons if you wish.
MOTCON,excuse my ignorance,but how do you transfer copyright if item was never copyrighted?After 70 years no abandoned/expired status?I'm holding historical stuff,what do I throw it away?
MOTCON,thanks for the links.It looks like public domain,now the same question....can I assume/apply/renew copyright?I saw that heirs have the right to renew for a period of time,but can I copyright or do I have any assumed rights?Again photos were never published.Thanks
as far as i've read, public domain doesn't add up to personal copyrights unless you are family.

everything that i've read is, in the case of posthumous copyright, 'widow', 'children', and 'next of kin'.
OK,public domain. I had a thought...can I take my photos that are public domain and improve(colorize,edit),and have any copyright? Would I be breaking any law if I printed and sold public domain photos?CONK,your photos are awesome!
junk250 said:
I had a thought...can I take my photos that are public domain and improve(colorize,edit),and have any copyright?

well, you've stepped right into a hot issue. someone (don't recall his name) took an image of the Mona Lisa and did a few edits to it....and claimed that it is now his. he also did this by 'sampling' some works of old photography masters. naturally, a debate ensued to no conclusive end (of which i'm aware). i have my own personal feelings about this, but to each his own i think.

as far as you being able to print them and sell them; i regret that i don't have an answer for you. the sticky wicket here is that you bought the negatives at one point in time: you clearly have ownership of the physical negatives. 'public domain' says one thing and transfer of negatives of non-copyrighted negatives may mean something else. i'm not sure.

some more light reading for all of you:
I never claim to be an expert, but I've read quite a bit about it lately. My understanding is that the pic is copyrighted as soon as it's put in tangible form (registering just allows you a better case and a much higher set of damages if you are infringed upon). I know this wasn't the law in 1930, but I'm pretty sure in this case it would be retroactive. Copyright last for 70yrs past the authors death.

But in either case, you do not own the copyright. He sold you prints, not rights, unless you have a specific contract in writing saying he transfers rights.

I had a thought...can I take my photos that are public domain and improve(colorize,edit),and have any copyright?

No, infact many photographers make this mistake. Did you know that if you took a pic of a billboard and sold the pic, you would be infringing on the copyright of the billboard. Same with statues and other art mediums. So it's a sticky situation. Sure you'd be the owner of the changes you make, but to do that you have to have infringed on someone else's rights. So, as is, right now, you have no rights whatsoever on this subject. If it's in the public domain you can use it but not copyright it.

Now that that's outta the way, let's look at the situation as it presents itself. The guy is dead and you have the negatives. That puts you in a very good position. You may not own the rights to those photos (as far as usage) but you do own the only known negatives. A very powerful position. I'd say you are pretty much free to use them because their isn't anyone to contest it. Anyone else could use them too, but their quality will not match yours and they probably won't bother.
Not open for further replies.

Most reactions

New Topics