A few years ago I began scanning images from my local newspaper archives of ads dating back to the early 1950s, then digitally enhancing, modifying and restoring them. These ads are mostly of old vehicles like Dodge, Chevy, Mercury etc., but sometimes I’ll modify other images like old movie ads, consumer items, whiskey ads, etc. To give you an idea of what I do: the original images I scan are grainy and distorted, while the final product is high contrast, with solid, clear color- mostly black and white. The work I do restoring each image can sometimes take up to five hours to complete. I began doing this with the sole purpose of creating art for myself - art I wanted but couldn’t find anywhere else. Now that I’ve developed my skills others are starting to take notice, and I’m getting a lot of requests to provide/sell copies of my work. I’ve tried to find resources/advice online specific to my situation but answers vary. Any idea how I can seek help to determine if it’s legal to sell my work w/o violating intellectual property laws? Should I attempt to hire a local lawyer? Any advice is much appreciated. Thank you!
1 Answer from Attorneys
As a general rule of thumb, anything published prior to 1925 will now be in the public domain. Many other more works were requried to affix a notice or to be renewed and now they too will be in the public domain. You have to take each work on its own. If the content is in the public domain then you are free to do what you wish with it including making derivative works from it or enhancing it, etc. But if the photo is not in the public domain and is still under copyright then using it for any purpose that is not personal use will be an infringement.
If you need clarification, I suggest that you consult with a lawyer in private and discuss your objectives in more detail. You can start by calling around to several for a free phone consultation, get some insights then pick the best fit to work with.
If you would like to discuss further over a free phone consult, feel free to contact me anytime that is convenient.
Our firm is now referred by the American Bar Association (see under the New York section): http://www.americanbar.org/groups/delivery_legal_services/resources/programs_to_help_those_with_moderate_income.html
DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-client relationship is formed on the basis of this posting.
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