The US Library of Congress' Copyright Office maintains an online
database of copyright records that you can easily search:
Note that there are different search databases: one for books and
for magazines, etc.
I conducted a search on "Providence Lithograph" and found 775 records
of copyrights. I chose a few of these at random to look at in more
detail, and found them all to be currently under copyright protection.
You can search the system yourself, and by entering identifying
information about the cards you have, you may be able to determine
their current status.
In the absence of clear evidence to the countrary, you are probably
best off assuming the material you have is, in fact, copyrighted.
The fact that the company is out of business is probably not relevant.
Copyrights are treated as a business asset, and when the company
folded, its assets were probably distributed to people like owners,
shareholders, debtors --it depends a lot on the circumstances.
Someone still holds the copyrights, but it can be a task tracking them
But help is out there!
The copyright office provides additional guidance in a number of very
"How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work (Circular 22)"
A list of Frequently Asked Questions can be found here:
including two that will be particularly relevant to your situation if
it turns out the material is, in fact, copyrighted, or if you have
difficulty determining the status:
How do I get permission to use somebody else's work?
You can ask for it. If you know who the copyright owner is, you may
contact the owner directly. If you are not certain about the ownership
or have other related questions, you may wish to request that the
Copyright Office conduct a search of its records or you may search
yourself. See the next question for more details.
How can I find out who owns a copyright?
We can provide you with the information available in our records. A
search of registrations, renewals, and recorded transfers of ownership
made before 1978 requires a manual search of our files. Upon request,
our staff will search our records at the statutory rate of $75 for
each hour. There is no fee if you conduct a search in person at the
Copyright Office. Copyright registrations made and documents recorded
from 1978 to date are available for searching online. For further
information, see Circular 22, How to Investigate the Copyright Status
of a Work, and Circular 23, Copyright Card Catalog and the Online
I hope this is the information you were seeking. If anything here
needs elaboration, just let me know through a Request for
Clarification and I'll be glad to assist you further.
search strategy: None--made use of existing knowledge of copyright