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Attorney Wayne
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Category: Intellectual Property Law
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Experience:  Practicing Law Since 2000
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what is the copyright status of a painting done before 1978

Resolved Question:

what is the copyright status of a painting done before 1978 that was published but no copyright registration or notice on the painting?
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Intellectual Property Law
Expert:  Attorney Wayne replied 2 years ago.

Attorney Wayne :

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Expert:  Attorney Wayne replied 2 years ago.

Hello. Thanks for contacting us.


You seem to have knowledge of Copyright Law -- enough to recognize the changeover from the old regime to the new.


The thing is -- there are copyrights that can go back to the 1920s. So if you can be a little more precise as to date, I can be more precise as to providing information about possible status.


But there is a chart that is quite good for at least giving an inkling as to it possible status. You can read it at this site from Cornell University -- and it can help frame the issue for any potential copyright issue.


Please fill me in with more precise dates if you'd like more information. You can post in the next text box.


Many thanks!

Customer: replied 2 years ago.

Hi Wayne. I am familiar with the Cornel chart - just looking for backup and confirmation.

My take is pre 1978 - no registration, no notice (copyright c and date) means public domain. Would you agree?


specific dates are between 1954 and 1978



Expert:  Attorney Wayne replied 2 years ago.

Potentially, yes. BUT (and a big BUT), if the work was published in some other way, perhaps as a book illustration or it may have had some notice of some kind at the time of publication, which may not be present now (faded, cut off to be put in a frame, etc).


One place you might check (without making the trip to the Library of Congress or paying someone to do the research) is at this link: (more to come)

Attorney Wayne, Lawyer
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Experience: Practicing Law Since 2000
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Expert:  Attorney Wayne replied 2 years ago.

This University of Penna. library resource has some of the pre-1978 visual arts copyright registrations available for review.


Still, old Copyright Office records are notoriously error-ridden; so the do-it-yourselfer should be aware that there are perils. I'd never say to anyone that it is surely in the public domain, unless, it was sufficiently old, produced by the United States Government, or I had paid an experienced researcher to go through all the possible records.


Publication is a technical and legally arguable condition-- and some have successfully argued that something was not published before 1978, so they get the grandfathered protection given to unpublished works.


It is also possible that the work is protected in a foreign country, and under Copyright Treaties the United States has signed, there may be protection. That would be specific to the country of origin and its relationships to the United States.


I wish you all the best with your project.

Customer: replied 2 years ago.

can we retain you?






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