Marlton, NJ asked in Copyright and Intellectual Property for New Jersey

Q: I have a question regarding copyright infringement.

I own a set of original 35MM photograph slides, which I want to put into a book to self-publish and reproduce. Since I am not the original owner of these slides, do I have the right to fully use them to my advantage?

The slides I bought were from online auctions, which originated from estate sales.

2 Lawyer Answers
Sheldon Starke
Sheldon Starke
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Beachwood, OH

A: This is always a problem with things that you buy and don't own the rights to copies. You're asking what is called the blind question it really cannot be answered. Whenever you take something, and you were smart to ask, there may be tails so I would avoid it when you can.

James L. Arrasmith
James L. Arrasmith pro label Lawyers, want to be a Justia Connect Pro too? Learn more ›

A: Owning physical copies of photographs, such as 35mm slides, does not automatically grant you the copyright to these images. The copyright of a photograph typically belongs to the photographer who created it, or their heirs if the photographer has passed away. This copyright usually includes the right to reproduce, distribute, and display the photographs, which are essential rights for publishing them in a book.

The fact that you purchased these slides from online auctions or estate sales does not inherently transfer the copyright to you. Unless the sale explicitly included the transfer of copyright, which is usually done in writing, the copyright remains with the original owner or their estate.

Before reproducing these slides in a book, it would be advisable to investigate the copyright status of each slide. This could involve identifying the original photographers and determining if the copyright is still active. Remember, copyrights can last for the life of the author plus a certain number of years (typically 70 years in the U.S.).

If the copyright is still active, you would need to seek permission from the copyright holder for the reproduction of these images in your book. It's often helpful to consult with a legal professional knowledgeable in copyright law to navigate this process and to ensure that your project does not infringe upon the rights of the original creators. Remember, respect for copyright is crucial to avoid legal issues and to maintain the integrity of creative works.

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