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Do copyrights expire?
Old 12-19-2006, 09:56 PM   #1 (permalink)
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I have preached the sacred gospel of copyright protection for photographers to all I know. I've told them how taking those portraits to CVS and using the self serve kiosks to make copies is taking food off tables of hard working photographers -- and flat out illegal. I've demanded to know about it when an employee even asks our digital department to scan a professional shot for them. It's just not done in any shape or form here and those that do it should be called on the carpet.

Then my mother asked me for a copy of an old (not that damn old!) print she had of ME when I was about 10 months old. I knew I had to stand by what I'd told others so even here I said I couldn't do it. But then she asked me if copyrights ever expired... if after the photographer no longer existed do the legal and moral issues of copying a photograph vanish with the lack of negative impact. She went on to ask who holds the copyright for pieces like classical poetry distributed by countless publishers?

I didn't have an answer.

So what's the bottom line? Does a copyright ever lose legal protection? Does it ever expire? Does there ever come a time when it's "ok" to freely distribute as long as the parties in the photograph give consent for distribution? I know some of you guys will nail this but right now this aspect of copyright protection seems less black & white to me than it did a couple days ago.

DP Ellis
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Re: Do copyrights expire?
Old 12-19-2006, 10:21 PM   #2 (permalink)
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http://www.copyright.gov/fls/sl15.html
Quote:
For works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection will endure for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. In the case of a joint work, the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author’s death. For anonymous and pseudonymous works and works made for hire, the term will be 95 years from the year of first publication or 120 years from the year of creation, whichever expires first;
For works created but not published or registered before January 1, 1978, the term endures for life of the author plus 70 years, but in no case will expire earlier than December 31, 2002. If the work was published before December 31, 2002, the term will not expire before December 31, 2047;
For pre-1978 works still in their original or renewal term of copyright, the total term is extended to 95 years from the date that copyright was originally secured.
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Re: Do copyrights expire?
Old 12-20-2006, 12:03 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by atlantashooter View Post
Does a copyright ever lose legal protection? Does it ever expire? Does there ever come a time when it's "ok" to freely distribute as long as the parties in the photograph give consent for distribution?
Ed gave you the answer to your first question... yes, copyrights do expire, normally 70 years after the death of the creator.

In answering your second question, the answer is "probably not, but not for the reason you're thinking". Just being in someone's photograph doesn't give you any rights to control the photograph... i.e. I take a photograph that includes you (and you are easily identifiable in the photo). You would normally have to consent to any commercialization of the image (i.e. I sell it or lease it to someone to use in an advertisement), but you wouldn't have any claim on the copyright, which is different.

Creators of copyrighted works normally have the exclusive right to control their creation - their property. They can assign those rights to someone else if they wish, either temporarily or on a permanent basis, or they can, if they wish, forfeit all copyright claims and declare their work to be in the "public domain".

That help?
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Re: Do copyrights expire?
Old 12-20-2006, 12:40 AM   #4 (permalink)
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While Ed does bring up extrememly excellent referances to law, I hate to make things more complex, but what about "Fair Usage"? Which if my memory serves correctly, does allow for some limited usage as long as it is NOT for profit.

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Re: Do copyrights expire?
Old 12-20-2006, 01:20 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by isaiahbrink View Post
While Ed does bring up extrememly excellent referances to law, I hate to make things more complex, but what about "Fair Usage"? Which if my memory serves correctly, does allow for some limited usage as long as it is NOT for profit.

Isaiah
Fair Use, as provided by 17USC2319 Section 107 (just happened to have that reference for the copyright lecture I present so many times each school year) says that "the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies.. for purposes such as (1) criticism, (2) comment, (3) news reporting, (4) teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), (5) scholarship, or (6) research is not an infringement of copyright."

What that means is that as long as you're using the copyrighted work for one of the above reasons (and note that does not include things like advertising or self promotion) within the Library of Congress guidelines then you can CLAIM that your use is legal under "fair use". The law only provides a "good faith defense" for educators and students of an educational institution - apparently, anyone else would have to back up their use if challenged.

The judgement of whether your use was fair or not rests upon four factors: (1) the purpose and the character of your use (including whether your use was commercial or not and how long you are using the material - the law specifically refers to "limited use" in reference to duration,) (2) the nature of the copyrighted work, (3) how much of the work you used (as a percentage of the whole work) and (4) the effect your use had on the value of the original work.

Note that non-commercial use is not absolutely required: for example big daily newspapers are decidedly commercial - and they avail themselves of the "fair use" laws to reprint copyrighted material quite often in reviews, news articles (especially business reports quoting from companies annual reports and such), etc.

So, while there are "fair use" provisions for using copyrighted material, the uses that are allowed are rather limited - and in any event do not come close to giving the same rights as a copyright holder has either in scope or duration.

n
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Re: Do copyrights expire?
Old 12-20-2006, 12:14 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Thanks guys. I knew I'd get the absolute bottom line here.

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