|Reed Bontecou’s Portraits of Wounded Soldiers (1865)|
Assuming the photos were published before 1923, (or if unpublished, the photographer died before 1946), the images are in the public domain. In other words, these photographs are free for you to use without permission. However, simply explaining that to a television station is not enough. The company will want you to back that up with insurance, and the insurer may want to consult with an attorney before issuing the policy.
What is E & O insurance and why do you need it? Errors and omissions insurance doesn't just cover claims of copyright infringement. This media liability insurance also protects against claims for right of publicity and invasion of privacy, trademark infringement, and a few other media-related problems. It is extremely unlikely you will obtain distribution deals or television broadcast without this insurance in place. According to Michael C. Donaldson's Clearance & Copyright, 4th Edition: Everything You Need to Know for Film and Television, the cost of insurance for a documentary ranges between $3,000 to $10,000 and most policies are issued by three insurers: Axis Pro, Hiscox, and Chubb. We recommend you invest in a copy of Donaldson's book as it explains the nuances of policies, how to apply for E & O insurance and it provides email addresses to write for qualified insurance brokers and clearance attorneys.