Copyright Question

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Postby Kevin Connolly » 03/14/10 07:20 PM

I'm about to lend some items to a museum for an exhibit and the museum wants to know if I own the copyright to some of the items. I know some of the items are unique, as in one-of-a-kind. Do I need to have them copyrighted?

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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 03/14/10 07:42 PM

Kevin, not sure what you mean by copyright.

The legal notion of copyright pertains to a fixed expression, recorded as text, audio and/or diagram, and covers the work from the moment it is created.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 03/14/10 07:52 PM

This was a general question in the agreement. I think it would pertain to the photos that will be on loan.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 03/14/10 07:57 PM

I should have included the word "image/photograph" to clarify the visual aspect of a fixed form. If you took the picture, painted the image... you have the copyright. There are forms to do the registration process if you feel that's in your interest.

http://www.wikihow.com/Copyright-Photographs
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 03/14/10 08:29 PM

Jonathan is not necessarily correct. If you are photographing someone else's trademarked material, you may be able to claim copyright of your photo, but may not be able to exhibit or reproduce it because of trademark infringement.
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Postby Bob Farmer » 03/15/10 09:32 AM

General answers to specific questions are worthless. Kevin, you need to make a list of all of the items, describing each one, including its origin and age.

That is the first step to determining the copyright questions.

As a general principle, if the item is subject to copyright, then the mere fact that you own the item does not mean you own the copyright (e.g., I own a CD, but I don't own the copyright in the CD).
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 03/15/10 10:24 AM

That I understand. Take for instance of one the items is a photo. This photo is a one-of-a kind photo. The photo is 85 years old and was Houdini's. I was thinking that since this one is only one extant, then I would be able to copyright it.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 03/15/10 10:26 AM

Bob, the notion of collectors as custodians for provenance data (origin, copyright, title etc) for the works they hold looks pretty useful. How else to tell the artifact of time from an artifact of guile?
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Postby mai-ling » 03/15/10 10:56 AM

I would think the only reason they are asking about
copyright is if they plan to publish anything in
a media form to advertise/market the collection.

I don't think it is meant for you to 'own' a R or TM
on anything and you know how expensive it is to do that?

Since you are not the origin of the items created you
can not take copyright over them. The family could.
But like Bob said, what specifically are you lending?

A photographer would have reserved right on the photos.
However a copyright in legal terms is dependent on him
and whether the family extended it because after 50 years
they can do that.

Like he said about CDs.
You can own them but you don't own the C or the P on them.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 03/15/10 11:05 AM

Kevin Connolly wrote:... Take for instance of one the items is a photo. This photo is a one-of-a kind photo. The photo is 85 years old and was Houdini's. I was thinking that since this one is only one extant, then I would be able to copyright it.


thanks, that's an interesting question.
one might appeal to the principle of roman law about the guy who found a ship on the beach, put on new boards, masts and a sail and claimed it as his own - (lost case that).

Probably matters where that photograph came from (or who took it) - as Bob was introducing the factor of provenance and how that effects claims of copyright ownership.

Here's a modern version of the question at stake here:

If a poet takes a magazine cover and writes a poem on that cover and offers that as a work - just what is the work and where do the rights of the cover photographer, the magazine publisher go if the entire paper is now treated as a work of art? The implied question is one of "fair use" - and relates to the practice of buying work by an artist for the signature, removing the work around that signature and then creating an new work which includes that signature.
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Postby Bob Farmer » 03/16/10 01:04 PM

If the photo does not have a copyright, and it's 85 years old, there is no basis for copyrighting it now.

You should ask the museum why they want the copyright information.
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Postby mai-ling » 03/16/10 02:26 PM

That's exactly what I said Bob.
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Postby the Larry » 03/16/10 02:36 PM

Not quite true. Unpublished material can be copyrighted anytime later. There is no cut-off date. If the photo was never published it can be copyrighted now.
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Postby Joe Pecore » 03/16/10 02:51 PM

Based on http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm

Unpublished works becomes public domain after:
* Life of the author + 70 years
* 120 years from date of creation if author is unknown.
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Postby mai-ling » 03/16/10 04:04 PM

Larry, why do you think the Gershwin still owns
the rights to Ira and George's music. They keep
renewing the copyright after 70 years.
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Postby Bob Farmer » 03/17/10 06:38 PM

You can't renew a copyright after 70 years.

I'm locking myself out of this topic.
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Postby Bill Mullins » 03/17/10 06:47 PM

Kevin -- who ever took the original photos (or their estate) is the copyright holder unless:

They specifically transferred it to someone else or

The copyright has expired or the photo has otherwise gone into public domain.

In either case, you don't have the copyright.

If the answer to your original question is important, you need to do what Bob Farmer said in his first post in this thread. It may cost money to get answers to those questions. If the borrower is going to make money by using the photo, they should pay the freight for getting the answers.

Otherwise, just tell the museum that you don't own copyright. If this causes them problems, they can decide if it's important enough to work it out.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 03/17/10 07:58 PM

Thanks Bill and everyone else. I think I have what I need.

Just to make it more confusing, for S&G's, etc, here we go.
The original photo was altered by Houdini. Does it make it his copyright(at one time)? Now, if I alter the photo, does it become mine to copyright?
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Postby mai-ling » 03/17/10 11:23 PM

artistic license is what makes one its own,
although many don't like altering a piece
of creative art of theirs then profiting
off of it.
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Postby magicam » 03/18/10 06:08 AM

Kevin, Bob Farmers input is sound.

Sounds like you believe you have things worked out now, but my suggestion would have been to let the museums legal counsel worry about this. They deal with this issue regularly. Very generally speaking, unless (i) you created a copyrightable work or (ii) you received a written assignment of copyright in connection with your acquisition of the copyrighted item, you dont own the copyright.

the Larry wrote:Not quite true. Unpublished material can be copyrighted anytime later. There is no cut-off date. If the photo was never published it can be copyrighted now.

Under current U.S. copyright law, thats not quite true either. If one creates a copyrightable work, the copyright is secured automatically the moment the work is created and documented in some manner. Documentation occurs the moment ones work is capable of being retrieved; in other words, when you make a copy of your work. Copies are material objects from which a work can be read or visually perceived, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device, such as books, manuscripts, sheet music, film, videotape, or microfilm. So whether or not a work has been published has virtually nothing to do with establishment of copyrights.

Some things to keep in mind under current U.S. copyright laws:

1. You dont have to publish your work in order to secure a copyright.
2. You dont have to register your creation with any government agency to secure a copyright.
3. You dont have to insert any kind of copyright notice (e.g., ) into your work to secure a copyright.
4. You dont have to send a copy of your work to any government agency to secure a copyright. That said, the Copyright Act still requires that copyright owners deposit with the Copyright Office two copies of the copyrighted work within three months of its publication in the United States; but the failure to do so does not affect copyright protection.
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Postby hugmagic » 03/19/10 07:08 AM

I don't know all the copyright laws but older works can be copyrighted.

Ted Turner took many of the old movies, colorized them and recopyrighted them. Dover took many expired copyright titles and republished them and copyrighted them.

If I had very exclusive photos, I would copyright them as part of the Kevin Connolly collection. Copyright is very easy and inexpensive to do.

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Postby Richard Kaufman » 03/19/10 08:39 AM

Dover's copyright notice does not suddenly "recover" the public domain material they reprint. It only covers new material, or new edits made. It never covers the original.
Ted Turner's copyright only covers his specific colorized version of a film, not the original film if it's public domain, nor anyone else's colorized version of a film.
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Postby mai-ling » 03/19/10 10:37 AM

Richard Hughes is correct about (C) is inexpensive.
However it has gone up quite a bit since I've done it.
(about 5 years now).

If you do a filing of a group of photographs you have to
do it by mail and its $65.

And it usually takes six months (sometimes longer)
to received the official government document seal.

I've had them take almost a year from date sent of
materials before I recevied the official document.
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Postby Tom Stone » 03/19/10 12:24 PM

Worth repeating.
magicam wrote:1. You dont have to publish your work in order to secure a copyright.
2. You dont have to register your creation with any government agency to secure a copyright.
3. You dont have to insert any kind of copyright notice (e.g., ) into your work to secure a copyright.
4. You dont have to send a copy of your work to any government agency to secure a copyright.
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