Need clarification on when an image is copyright-free. Example included.

+12 votes
Hi, I am adding a new profile for a friends father (or maybe he's a grandfather, I forget) but have run into copyright confusion. I located a photo on Wikipedia and at the top of the details section it has a statement that reads because of its age, the photo is now copyright free. But as I scrolled to the bottom there is a note indiciating all usage of this photo must be cleared by New York Public Library. I'm thinking because it just passed the 100 year mark maybe the last comment hadn't been deleted. I'm confused and request assistance. I'm listing both the Wikipedia page and the site for the holder of the photo. Thanks in advance!



WikiTree profile: Solomon Fuller
in The Tree House by Cynthia Rushing G2G6 Mach 3 (33.2k points)

3 Answers

+17 votes
Best answer

This is a very complex question and there's not a simple answer.  If it were a published work before 1923, it would be public domain now.  If it was unpublished, then it is protected until 70 years after the author's death.  If you don't know the author, then it's 120 years after the work was done.

The NYPL says "The copyright and related rights status of this item has been reviewed by The New York Public Library, but we were unable to make a conclusive determination as to the copyright status of the item. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use." which basically means "You're on your own."

Probably this was taken by Chester Bushong, who died in 1939, which would be more than 70 years ago, so you'd be safe.  But if it was taken by someone else at his studios, you might not be.  And since technically, the photographer is "unknown", you have to wait until 120 years, and we don't even have the precise year it was taken, so...good luck?

"Probably" it's public domain.  It's also unlikely anyone with standing is looking to claim ownership.  But it's nearly impossible to be sure - sadly, as is true with many old photographs.

by Stephen Haley G2G6 Mach 2 (24.2k points)
selected by Cynthia Rushing
Stephen thank you for that detailed response, I'll have to do some further digging and see what other images I might find. Copyrights can be very complicated and one needs to tread carefully. Appreciate your assistance.
+10 votes
This file is is the public domain, as noted in the blue info box at the bottom. Sometimes original copyright holder information is included as a breadcrumb to the source.
by Greg Shipley G2G6 Mach 6 (69.1k points)
+8 votes

Back in the early 1900s, my great-grandfather hired his friend, a professional photographer, to photograph him and his family.  It's a wonderful photo.  About twenty years ago, the original glass plate was donated to Denver Public Library.  They scanned it and slapped a copyright notice on the photo.  I've scanned the copy I own, which is the original print that my great-grandfather purchased.  My scan looks pretty much like their scan (or possibly better, because I seem to have scanned it at a higher resolution).  The photographer died in the 1950s.  I've never understood how they can claim copyright on their scan when my great-grandfather paid for the print.  Surely, his photographer friend, long dead, could have claimed copyright, but he had no descendants to press a claim.  I choose to ignore the copyright issue in this case, but then again, I've never posted the photograph to great-grandpa's memorial on Wikitree.  Here's a direct link to the photograph on the DPL site:  

by J. Crook G2G6 Pilot (202k points)
That is a good question for someone with copyright experience to address. It appears this is something that many of us might encounter and would be helpful to discuss here. Can anyone jump in on this?
I don't think you own that image - the Denver Public Library owns it as the copyright holder gave the original (the plate) and likely the copyright to DPL.

You own a copy but not the copyright. You can use it for personal use but not for publication or reproduction and distribution.

So, can you legally post your scan here (or elsewhere)? I don't think so but I am not a lawyer.

This has been covered here several times - do a search and follow some of the links to  legal opinions.
Thanks G.B. for your reply to my question and helping J. Crook also. I will search for those previous g2g posts.

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