Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Operator Error: Correction re: Published Photos

Dear Rich: The other day you wrote that if photos are dated before January 1, 1978 and unpublished and not registered at the Copyright Office, they likely entered the public domain on January 1, 2003. I'm confused. I am an attorney and I always tell libraries that have old musty photos that if they are unpublished, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. My understanding is that the Jan 1, 2003 date, when many had "public domain" parties - was for the super old works (author dead longer than 70 years) that had enjoyed a perpetual common law copyright until the 1976 Act which set that date as the entrance into the public domain. Published works that don't have copyright notice or were not renewed entered the public domain. It takes a big blogger to admit they're wrong and we wish we were a big blogger. But in any case, we did get it wrong and you are correct.
How could this happen? Apparently like those people who crashed the White House Dinner, some things just get by the experts. In fact that's exactly the kind of error that keeps us up late at night and the reason why we need to wear retainers to prevent the teeth gnashing, and use expensive biofeedback systems to calm down after every entry. In any case, the only penance that we can propose is a self-imposed cone of silence that shall go into effect immediately.