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JD 1992
JD 1992, Lawyer
Category: Intellectual Property Law
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Experience:  18 years experience
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I have an online store at Bonanza.com selling vintage comic

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I have an online store at Bonanza.com selling vintage comic books that were being published in the late 1960’s and all the way up into the years 1985. The original publisher is Warren Publishing Company and they went out of business in the 1980’s and I don’t know whom owns the copyright to these comics now. What I want to do is take some of the better ones in my personal collection and scan them into a digital format such as an e-book so I can sell them at my website and as a Kindle book on Amazon.com. What I want to know is in the area of copyright law. I hired a person on Fiverr.com to do a basic copyright search and this is what he told me: “The comics which are published in the 60’s or 70’s are now public property and you can legally use them. The comics which are published in the 80’s and 90’s you cannot use if they are protected without the owners permission.” So I guess my question is what are my rights to do legally without being sued for copyright infringement.

Hello and thank you for contacting us. This is Dwayne B. and I’m an expert here and looking forward to assisting you today.

Customer: replied 1 month ago.
Do you have an answer for me?

I'm not sure where the Fiverr person got their information, but that's entirely incorrect in the US.

The rule for copyright is much, much longer than that. All works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. Works published after 1922, but before 1978 are protected for 95 years from the original date of creation or publication. If the work was created, but not published, before 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

You would have to look for both the successors to the publishing company plus the successor to the writer/artist. Likely the publishing company has all the rights so if you track down their successor in interest then they should be the ones who own the rights. If there is no successor in interest then you have to start looking for the writer/artist and check with their heirs if they are not alive.

The place to start with the publishing company is probably the bankruptcy court because very few companies went out of business in the 80s and 90s without involving a bankruptcy.

PLease be patient, I am still working on the rest of the answer.

The best way to find this info is to hire a local paralegal to do online research and to contact the bankruptcy courts for you.

If it turns out a bankruptcy wasn't involved then you have to research the writer/artists, find out if they are still alive and if not, have the paralegal get a copy of their probate file to see who inherited their estate. Hopefully they are still alive or the next set of heirs is still alive because, if not, you have to keep checking probate records each time an heir has passed away to see who their heirs are.

If you violate copyright I believe the range of fines per violation is $20k to $100k, so it is substantial. This would be for a knowing violation or for one where the proper research just wasn't done, as opposed to an "accidental violation" which is rare.

Also, you can negotiate for just the digital rights or for the rights to the entire property.

I'm finished with the answer now so if you have any questions, please post them.

If your question has been answered then I'd offer my best wishes to you and ask that you please not forget to leave a 5 Star Positive Rating so I receive credit for my work. Of course, please feel free to ask any follow-up questions in this thread. I want to be sure all of your questions are answered.

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