Monday, February 9, 2015

Wants to Claim Copyright and Sell Public Domain Photos

2014 Winner of Best Public Domain Gif
Animal Category
Dear Rich: I have a souvenir photo book (images of public buildings, gardens, outdoor scenes) which I purchased over 30 years ago. It was published prior to 1923 (now part of the public domain, as I understand it). The book has no printed credits or copyrights, no info on who photographed the images or published the book. An Internet search has turned up one other copy of this book – it is in a USA university collection. The pages have been scanned and included in the university library’s digital collection; they have assigned a copyright to their scanned images; the digital images are available for purchase through the university. I would like to scan my copy of this book and use the images in artistic works and derivatives to sell, as well as offer the scanned digital images for sale. Would I be within my legal rights to copyright my scanned images from this book and use/sell them?
You can scan, copy and sell the images in the book but you could not claim a copyright. Because this book was published before 1923, it is in the public domain in the United States (however, it could still be under copyright in other countries). An exact digital scan of a public domain book is not copyrightable, just as a Xerox copy of a book is not copyrightable—both lack sufficient creativity to qualify for copyright protection. You are free to make a scan of your copy of the book and sell or otherwise make use of it. The university’s copyright claim in the scan they made is spurious. Unfortunately, false copyright claims like this are made all the time. Answered by Stephen Fishman, author of The Public Domain.