Who owns copyright to old magazines?

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  • Hi,


    In another post here, someone answered that in general, the rights to work produced in old magazines lasted the normal term of 70 years after the death of the "author." That was seen as making it difficult to determine if magazines are out of copyright, because several people may have been involved in producing the magazine (writers, photographers, etc.). But my question is whether the people who sell content to a magazine actually have any rights, i.e., doesn't the copyright on the article go to the magazine owners, who paid the writers and photographers for their work? In other words, if I digitally reproduce a page from a magazine, do both the magazine's owners AND the writer and photographer all have copyright? Or does the magazine buy the right to copyright the work when it purchases the article or photo?

    The other reason I'm asking is that, if the magazine retains the copyright and the corporation producing the magazine has gone out of business, is there any legal entity that con enforce the copyright? 


    Please help. 


    I didn't find the right solution from the Internet. 




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  • Most likely for each individual work within the magazine there would be one copyright holder, either the magazine or the creator. Who that copyright owner is depends on a number of factors and may be difficult to determine, especially for older works. If the photographer/author was employed the magazine then their contributions would be considered work for hire, which mean the magazine would own the copyright on those works. However, if the contributers are not employed by the magazine then they may or may not have retained their copyright. Who owns the copyright in that case would most likely be determined by some sort of contract or agreement between the contributer and the magazine. 

    If the magazine and corporation are no longer in business that does not mean that the work is no longer under copyright. The copyright will still extend for the full copyright term. The copyright would have transferred to someone or some other entity who may or may not at this point realize they are the copyright holder. Works where it is impossible to determine the current copyright holder are referred to as orphan works. Although orphan works are still under copyright your risk in using them may be reduced and that can be factored into a fair use analysis. However, should the copyright holder come forward they would still be within their rights to bring a copyright infringement suit. 

    This report on orphan works and mass digitization from the US Copyright Office may be of interest to you. 



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