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Q: Rights to restore antique photos ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Rights to restore antique photos
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Visual Arts
Asked by: archaiapix-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 03 May 2005 07:17 PDT
Expires: 02 Jun 2005 07:17 PDT
Question ID: 517192
I'd like to start selling restorations of antique photographs.  I have
many images that I do not have the negatives for, for example, cabinet
cards.  How do I get the rights to "reprint" these images from a scan?
 I will be restoring the scan and then reprinting.  They were all
created before 1920.
Subject: Re: Rights to restore antique photos
Answered By: kriswrite-ga on 03 May 2005 08:06 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello archaiapix~

Any photograph taken before December 31, 1922 is in the public domain.
That means that anyone can use these images without violating U.S.
copyright law, or seeking permission from the original copyright

(FYI: Any photograph taken after this point *may* still be protected
by copyright--in which case, you'd have to contact the original
copyright holder, requesting permission to use his or her photo. [The
copyright holder would almost always be the photographer, or
photography studio, not the people sitting for the photo.])

For more information, check out "Fair Use of Copyrighted Materials" at
University of Texas System:

Good luck!

Researcher's personal knowledge
Google search: copyright "fair use"

Request for Answer Clarification by archaiapix-ga on 04 May 2005 10:30 PDT
I got a message from someone saying: "... a photographer still retains
intellectual property rights for 120 years from the date of creation
whether or not the work is registered or the photographer is known or
dead.  Additionally, the subjects retain rights to privacy and

I am confused, is the time limit 70 years or 120?

Clarification of Answer by kriswrite-ga on 04 May 2005 10:32 PDT
The reason for the confusion is that copyright law has changed over
the years. Rest assured, anything before Dec. 31, 1922 *is* in public
domain, and you can use it freely.

The new copyright laws are much more complex, but don't apply to
anything before 1922.


Request for Answer Clarification by archaiapix-ga on 04 May 2005 12:04 PDT
SORRY!  I got a response: 

"That statement is not correct; it applies only to published works,
the renewal term of which, at the time 75 years, expired prior to
1998.  In 1998 the law was changed to extend the renewal term an extra
20 years for published works still within their term in 1998.  That is
why published works prior to 1923 are in the public domain--their
75-year term expired before the new law.  Today, all published works
and works still within their term in 1998 (1923 and later) retain a
95-year term.  However, there is a difference between published works
and works not published and registered.
Published works are beholden to the renewal term I just explained to you.
Unpublished works retain intellectual property rights for 70 years form the
creator's death or, in the case of anonymity, 120 years from the date of

The photos I'd be reprinting are likely unpublished and all older than
the 1920s.  Do "intellectual property" rights restrict me from
reprinting if "copyright" doesn't?  (I'm not sure what I'm asking...
legal permission, clarification?)  hehe

Clarification of Answer by kriswrite-ga on 04 May 2005 12:28 PDT
You really are in the free and clear. I, myself, have collected
antique photos for years, and have compiled several books of them,
published by a well known and reputable publisher. Never in any case
did we have to request rights from anyone. You are free to use antique
photos as you wish, assuming they are from your own collection.


Clarification of Answer by kriswrite-ga on 04 May 2005 12:54 PDT
To further help (I hope), copyright law does *not* just apply to
published works. Any book, poem, photos, etc. created is also covered
by copyright law. Anything published before the 1922 date I've already
given is covered by copyright law of that time period. Anything
published after that *may* have an extended copyright; to know for
sure, you'd have to pay for a copyright search. The information you
have been given elsewhere does not apply to antique works.

Here are more links about "public domain." Remember, "words" applies
even to photos, published or unpublished:

* "When U.S. Works Pass into Public Domain at UNC:"

* "Copyright Term & Public Domain" at Cornell University:

* "Copyright Basics" at the U.S. Copyright Office:
(specially, check out these pages: and )

archaiapix-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $1.00

Subject: Re: Rights to restore antique photos
From: kriswrite-ga on 04 May 2005 11:23 PDT
You're welcome :)  And thank you for the great rating, and the tip!


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