Historical Association Claims Copyright To Scans Of 100 Year Old Photos
from the one-step-forward,-two-steps-back dept
The Clinton County Historical Glass Negatives Portrait Project has been “diligently identifying, sorting, re-sleeving and generally rediscovering a collection of over 15,000 glass negatives dating back to 1897.” They have made a selection of these photos available for purchase as reprints, but they have also put all of the photos behind a copyright gate that requires anyone viewing the photos agree to a ridiculously large block of legalese:
All photographs in this gallery are the property of the Clinton County Historical Association and are protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) and by the Berne Convention. Reproduction, storage or transmittal by any means, of any image on this web site, whole or in part, is prohibited without express prior written permission. Prints purchased from this gallery may not be reproduced or scanned for any reason and may only be used for personal display. If you wish to publish or reproduce the materials in any physical or digital form or use them for any commercial purpose, including display or Web page use, you must obtain prior written permission from the Clinton County Historical Association.
Reader Luke T. Bush, who submitted the story, astutely asks: “I understand charging for the work of scanning and printing negs but can they claim copyright to prevent copying of the prints?” As ruled in Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. 36 F. Supp. 2d 191 (S.D.N.Y. 1999), exact photographic copies of works in the public domain cannot be copyrighted. So, the question then extends to whether or not those photos are in the public domain yet. The copyright is owned by the photographer and lasts for life plus 70 years. Since the photos in question were taken from 1901-1905, it is likely that many have already passed into the public domain.
Even if CCHA actually did own the copyright to the photos, they are unnecessarily hamstringing themselves by adding this needless “protection.” Not only are the low-resolution scans on their site marred with a digital watermark, but hiding them behind their own particularly restrictive copyright gate also prevents the images from ever being included in a search engine. So, while CCHA has taken the admirable step to saving these photos from obscurity by scanning them, putting them behind this copyright gate effectively re-hides them.