Public Domain: Can Images Before 1923 be Used?

5 replies
I have come across a great site that has images "from the public domain" but when I get to these images (all are pre 1923) they say they are copyrighted. I was under the impression that EVERYTHING pre 1923 was PD?
#1923 #domain #images #public
  • Profile picture of the author Baystreet
    I'm not a PD expert or a lawyer but I believe you are correct as far as the United States is concerned.

    If the pictures are from a different country different copyright laws may apply.

    If the site has both protected and non-protected images they might just show the copyright warning on all pages to keep things simple.

    It might also be possible for the person putting the collection of pictures together to copyright his work in building the collection but the actual images are in the public domain.
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    • Profile picture of the author Baystreet
      You can also see if you can find the same images from another site and see if they also say they are under copyright protection.
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  • Profile picture of the author jkatzenback
    My opinion is never risk it unless you are sure. I simply bought an account at clipart.com and know my images are safe to use that way.
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    • Profile picture of the author Marhelper
      Originally Posted by canuck1972 View Post

      My opinion is never risk it unless you are sure. I simply bought an account at clipart.com and know my images are safe to use that way.
      I agree and as a result I have contacted the site directly but have not heard back from them. They have tons of awesome images from the 1800s but they all have the c with a circle around it?
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  • Profile picture of the author Dan C. Rinnert
    Originally Posted by Marhelper View Post

    I have come across a great site that has images "from the public domain" but when I get to these images (all are pre 1923) they say they are copyrighted. I was under the impression that EVERYTHING pre 1923 was PD?
    Works first published in the United States before 1923 are now in the public domain. Foreign works first published outside the U.S. before 1923 may still be protected. I think the cutoff date for foreign works is 1909, but I'm not sure and that still only applies to the work's status within the United States.

    A copyright can be claimed on a collection, so they may be claiming a copyright on their particular arrangement or catalog of works. That doesn't change the copyright status of an individual piece, though.

    If they have changed the images, they can claim a copyright as a derivative work. However, to merit copyright protection, a certain amount of creativity has to have been involved. Simply scanning an image and claiming a copyright on your scan may not be enough to merit copyright protection, but you'd really need to get a lawyer's opinion on that. If they have created vector art out of the original artwork, then that may qualify for copyright protection.

    But, as others have suggested, when in doubt, ask.
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