old photos and ephemera

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  • Great site - thanks for the information.

    I work in a local history room at a public library. Among our popular collections are vertical files of articles, brochures, and other print ephemera, and an extensive image collection of (mostly) photographs. Our patrons include writers on local history and developers rehabbing old industrial/commercial sites, as well as homeowners and genealogists.

    For the vast majority of our photos, we do not know who took took them, or when - such was the nature of collection development in years gone by. Many of the photos are clearly in the pre-1923 safe period, but many are not.

    My question is: how should we advise patrons who want to use reproductions (digital photos or xeroxes) of these images for publication or in an onsite presentation?

    A similar question relates to company publications from defunct businesses - can (for example) the current owners/agents of owners of the site use reproductions relating to the history of the building in promotional materials?

    The photos seem to me to be "orphan works." So what would constitute due diligence on the part of those who wish to use them?
  • Hi, jwbkmn.

    These are good questions that frustrate a lot of librarians and researchers. I am not a lawyer, but I suggest the following.

    1. Patrons should explore all available avenues to determine who copyright holders are and how to reach them. Just because a copyright holder cannot readily be identified, that does not mean that the material is in the public domain.

    2. This search should be documented. Retain all correspondence and related documents.

    3. If patrons cannot identify or contact a copyright owner, they might reconsider their intended use of a work. Perhaps a limited use would fall under fair use, or perhaps a patron could substitute another image.

    You can find a more extensive discussion of this situation and its alternatives at the Indiana University-Purdue University Copyright Management Center: http://www.copyright.iupui.edu/permdeadend.htm.

    Finally, it sounds like this is a frequent issue where you work. If you haven’t already done so, you might consider creating a handout that explains these issues as simply as possible.

    Does anyone have other ideas?

    Best regards,
  • You might also inform your patrons that Congress is investigating the issue of orphan works and that revisions to the copyright laws--including a definition of what the threshold requirements for a reasonably diligent search is, as well as a revision to the legal remedies available to owners of orphan works who resurface after someone has used their work--may be forthcoming.

    The U.S. Copyright Office recently released its report and recommendations to Congress on the orphan works issue. Links to the final report, as well as background info, can be found at: http://www.copyright.gov/orphan/
    (You may have to cut & paste that URL; for some reason, the full address isn't showing in the link when I preview this posting.)

    (Caution: The report is a fairly large PDF file (+200 pages). The section on the Copyright Office's recommended amendments to the law for orphan works begins on p. 92.)
  • Thanks for the replies. I did get the copyright office report - I saved the pdf. to my desktop, and printed out the "executive summary" and "conclusions and recommendations" sections to give to patrons to refer to. I found it via the ALA pages, which I went to from the link on your page. It is clear from the report that unlabelled photographs are indeed typical of this class of material.
    I am planning on writing up a handout based on the report, and suggesting that if our patrons want to use c copy of the image in a display, that they cite "image from the collection of the [my library]," which will both promote our collection and supply an attribution that potential claimants to the attribution could follow up on.

    Do you think that would be opening us up to any negative repercussions?
  • Note that the report is not law yet, and does not actually offer safety until the recommendations are written into law. It would probably still be a good idea to follow their guidelines, but it doesn't quite protect you yet.

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