Antique photos

← Return to forum

  • In a public forum someone has a photo he bought and claims is an original. The photo was taken in 1916. It was not taken by the current owner of the photo. It is not known if the photo was ever published. There is no copyright indication on the original photo. The owner has placed a watermark on the photo and believes this constitutes copyright protection. If I am not mistaken, works produced before 1923 are now in the public domain. Does the addition of a watermark to a pre 1923 photo constitute copyright protection? Can you direct me to any citation which applies either way to this situation?

    Bob Read
  • 1. Published works that were created before 1923 are in the public domain.

    2. Unpublished works are in the public domain if the photographer died before 1935.

    3. If the author's death date is unknown, unpublished works are protected for 120 years from creation.

    With no evidence of publication, I think you need to assume that the work was not published when the current owner obtained it. If you don't know when the photographer died. then I think the 3rd situation applies. If I've done my math right, then you need to wait another 30 years before the work is in the public domain.

    In any case, I do not believe that the watermark provides copyright protection. The watermark is not a substantial change. Can I take the image on the latest issue of Time, put a watermark on it or use it on another magazine cover with a different logo, and claim copyright?

    I hope that was clear, but if it's not, let me know.

    Bottom line: In my opinion, the current owner does not have copyright protection and never will. Either the work is in the public domain or the actual copyright holder is unknown and will likely remain unknown until the work becomes public domain.

Posting to the forum is only available to users who are logged in.

← Return to forum