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Author Topic: Corbis and their copyright on old public domain images?  (Read 6759 times)

anartexiled

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Corbis and their copyright on old public domain images?
« on: June 14, 2011, 09:16:16 AM »
Hi - I have a question, hoping you can help me, I asked this on the Facebook page as I had found it first, and was directed here.

I haven't gotten any extortion letters, but hoping to do the right thing and prevent them! :)

I've been asked by my employer, which makes art prints, to search for public domain images of old movie stars such as Marilyn Monroe. Pretty much every webpage out there says that back in the 50s-60s publicity photographs of stars were not copyrighted, or if they were, most studios did not bother renewing copyright after a few years after the movie, and they became public domain. I have found several photos we'd like to use, but am checking into each one to make sure that it is in fact public domain and is ok to use.

I came across the same images on Corbis Images, which wants a ridiculous amount of money for the licensing of each photo! Do they take public domain images and ask for money for them - or is everyone else wrong and these photos ARE copyrighted, or copyright somehow came to Corbis Images after the copyright laws were changed?? I'm hoping this makes sense. I don't want to land my employer into very hot water so I'm trying to do the right thing and find information about each image. This being the internet, it's a long process!

Of course, I realise there are some photos that are still copyrighted based on whatever the agreements were with the photographers/studios at the time. I've found some that are, so I'm steering clear of those.

Also interestingly enough, Marilyn Monroe was ruled to be in public domain in 2007... again according to the internet (where everything needs to be checked and triple-checked!) But even so, it depends on the photographer who took images of her, doesn't it?

And if I do trust every other statement about these particular 50s publicity pictures being public domain, and my employer uses them, what's the likelihood of the company receiving one of the famous letters from Corbis since they claim to own the images to license them out?
Also, I am in Australia. I notice that Corbis Images has an Australian division. Does this affect anything?

SoylentGreen

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Re: Corbis and their copyright on old public domain images?
« Reply #1 on: June 14, 2011, 02:15:40 PM »
To use such images in this way, you'd have to be absolutely sure of what you are doing.
Keep in mind that what you can do with such images is governed by the laws of your own country.
So the findings of Shaw Family Archives v. Marilyn Monroe LLC in New York may not apply to you, for example.
In fact, although Marilyn's image, likeness and persona are all in the public domain, the copyrights on such property are likely owned by somebody.
Add to this that it's difficult to determine who owns something like this; even the US copyright office doesn't guarantee that something isn't copyrighted just because it's not listed with them.
This is the sort of thing that has landed people into serious trouble with legal fights so long and expensive that it hardly seems to matter whether you have a legal right to use it or not.
I'd be very careful.

S.G.


anartexiled

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Re: Corbis and their copyright on old public domain images?
« Reply #2 on: June 14, 2011, 10:48:25 PM »
That's what I've been trying to do - to find heads or tails of information for each Marilyn image that we want to use, to be sure it's public domain.

You make an excellent point though - I hadn't thought that images that were public domain in the USA might still be copyrighted here... that does complicate matters!!

(I wouldn't have thought that Australia would protect images that the USA has no copyright claim on, even though that is where they were made? Then again, of course our laws are different, plus it really depends on the history of copyright there and here... this is all giving me a headache!)

Hmm... would you suggest that we pay Corbis their image fees, for the pictures they represent, just to be on the safe side? I want to do everything the right way. I am just not 100% convinced of how Corbis came to "own" these images in the first place, if so many were originally public domain or never renewed by their respective studios, back in the day when copyright wasn't automatic...

anartexiled

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Re: Corbis and their copyright on old public domain images?
« Reply #3 on: June 14, 2011, 11:11:13 PM »
Aaand just found this, regarding Marilyn Monroe, apparently rights to her images (that were copyrighted) were acquired by a company in USA:
http://authenticbrandsgroup.com/news_press.htm#mm

I knew those particular photographers still held copyright of those photos, but her name and likeness WERE in public domain in USA I thought...

Looks like we'll have to go the licensing route to be safe!!
Corbis has those images too - but at least that link provides other licensing contacts, maybe their prices aren't as inflated? (One can hope?)
And if Corbis ever goes after the company for making prints of the images, we'd have licenses anyway, just maybe not from them.

Oscar Michelen

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Re: Corbis and their copyright on old public domain images?
« Reply #4 on: June 29, 2011, 08:55:48 AM »
Please remember that you are talking about two different things.  Because she died long ago, Marilyn Monroe no longer has rights to publicity or privacy. But the person who owns the copyright to the images in question is the photographer (or film studio) not the person depicted in the photo. Those copyrights are likely still very much alive. 

 

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