Signing copyrighted work you own but are not the author.

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  • I own a private glass plate photograhic collection pre 1900. I purchased the collection from the person who inherited the collection and have a registered copyright within the required time frame. I have published an offering of reproduction prints within the required time. Again, I am reproducing large format prints from the collection for sale to the public. The digitial prints identify the original photographer in the lower right corner of the print. Can I sign my signature or initial next to his to authenticate copyright ownership. How should I watermark the prints? What pertinent information is required when issuing a Certificate of (reproduction)Authenticity.
  • Under U.S. copyright law, signing or initialing a work does not authenticate copyright ownership, and notice is no longer required to protect copyright. Not sure of what your question is.
  • Thanks Ruth. Sorry my question was not clear enough. However I think you answered my question. I will try to rephase question in another post later this week. Many thanks.
  • Hi Ruth. Let me try a different approach. Imagine you are in an art gallery and see a large framed photograph you would like to purchase for $2000. How should I be informing you as the purchaser that I am the owner and owner of the copyright of the photo but not the author/photographer. The intent is to protect the photo from being reproduced for any reason without permisssion to protect the owner and purchaser. Thanks for your patience.
  • I'm not Ruth, but I'll jump in anyway. I think it's important to note that anything created pre-1900 no longer enjoys copyright protection, so I don't know of any way to protect photos of this age with copyright (a possible exception would be for derivative works, but it doesn't sound like that's what you're talking about here).

    I think that most in this situation fall back on licensing and/or physical protections. That is to say, before allowing access to the photos, you would have people agree to some sort of license (possibly with signs or a notice on a ticket) and/or you would have physical limitations (possibly a security guard or, in the digital world, poor quality thumbnails).
  • Thank you. Is 1900 a set date. Photos were taken pre 1900 but not bequeathed until 1917. Thanks.
  • I think that perhaps I made things a bit more confusing than they needed to be. I was assuming that these were published photos, but I used the wrong term (created instead of published). Works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. For more detailed information on when works become public domain and lose copyright protection in the United States, see the Digital Copyright Slider at

    If these photos were not published, the key date is when the photographer (author) passed away. If they are unpublished, see information on the bottom of the Digital Copyright Slider (linked above) to determine whether or not they are under copyright.

    If the photos are under copyright, this is the case regardless of signatures. You may still want to include some licensing or physical restrictions to provide information to possible purchasers and ensure payment. Additional options to those already mentioned include adding a watermark to digital photos or including a note on the back of the photo.

    I apologize for any confusion my error may have caused.
  • Hi Freya...thanks. I checked the Digital Copyright Slider and now am more confused. I'll have to do more research regarding copyrights before 1923. Is the "date of publication" refer to the definition of "publishing" before 1923 or the current definition? My thinking now is that any sales would include an agreement/licensing agreement with respect to ownership. There's lots of questions I won't bore you with at this time. I'll prbably make naother post any the questions arise. Are there any standards with respect to placement, size, location, font for watermark. Is the watermark in author name or owners name who owns the copyright or own the work?
    Again. thanks.
  • The copyright in any work published for the first time before 1923 has expired. For unpublished works, the copyright in works this age expires 50 years after the death of the creator. In short, there is very likely no copyright at all in these photos. Republication does not revive a copyright, and neither does a transfer of ownership. Once a copyright expires, it is gone. If you bought the photos, you obtained legal title to the physical objects but not a copyright. You can mark them anyway you like and that marking will indicate your ownership of the photos (although it may also decrease the value), but there will still be no copyright.

    A fundamental principle of copyright is that ownership of a physical object embodying a copyrighted work is separate from ownership of the copyright. Buying the work does not, by itself, get one the copyright, even if the copyright has not expired.

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