Old images in the public domain
There is a wonderful abundance of older images available on the World Wide Web, some of them out of copyright. Here are a few of my favorite sites featuring old PD images:
- Knight's American Mechanical Dictionary, featuring lots of mechanical drawings from 1876
- Naumann, Naturgeschichte der Vögel Mitteleuropas, paintings of birds from 1905
- The Newgate Calendar, featuring prints of criminals, published in 1774
- Photographs from World War One, many in color, are available here, here, and here.
- Child labor in America 1908 - 1912
- Daguerreotypes 1839 - 1864
- The Rumsey Antique Map Collection
The simple answer is, if a picture (or anything else) was first published in the U.S. before January 1, 1923, then its PD (in the U.S.). If it wasn't, then it's probably not. For most purposes, that's good enough. So long as you only deal with those pictures, you're guarranteed safe. But for other cases, the devil's in the details.
But what if the image was never published? If an image was never published (or if it was first published after 2002 even though it was created before 1935), then different rules apply. If an unpublished work was created by a known author with a known year of death, then the work is in the public domain if the author died before 1935. If the unpublished work is by an anonymous or corporate author, or if the year of death for the author is not known, then the work is in the public domain if the work was created before 1885. This often requires research to determine. Copyright lawyers make good money looking stuff like this up.
To make things more complicated, if an image was first published after 1923, the copyright might have expired anyway under certain circumstances (although it's unlikely). And remember that if the copyright has expired, that means the image is PD. Here are the official exceptions as to why an image's copyright might have expired, even if it was first published in the U.S. after 1923:
If a work was first published in the U.S. between 1923 and 1977, and it was published without a copyright notice, it's in the public domain. But you have to know for sure that it was first published without that little © symbol.
- If a work was first published in the U.S. between 1923 and 1963 with a copyright notice, then it's in the public domain only if the copyright was not renewed. (This is very difficult to determine, and takes some serious research. It's also unlikely.)
If a work was first published in the U.S. between 1978 and March 1, 1989, and it was published without a copyright notice, then it's in the public domain only if the author failed to subsequently register that copyright. (This is also difficult to determine.)
All this refers to images published in the U.S. Different countries have different copyright laws. But I'll deal with this in another post.
I just found your blog and want to say thank you! What an enjoyable time looking
through so many pictures. Thanks for sharing.
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All information on this site is correct to the best I can determine; however, nothing on this page should be construed as legal advice, and I cannot be liable for any damages if this information is inadvertantly incorrect.