Answer Man

Copyright lasts for 95 years, but there is a way around the law

Q: I am just about to turn 70, and I have some grade school pictures taken in the 1950s that I want to enlarge. However, when I took them to a photographer, they told me they couldn’t do it because they had some kind of watermark (or something) and were copyrighted. For Pete’s sake, it’s been 60 years. How long can such copyrights run?

C.J., of Cahokia

A: I hope your family has good genes. Under the Federal Copyright Act of 1976, photographs are protected from the moment the shutter release is pushed, and that protection lasts for 95 years. So unless those pictures were taken before 1923, you may be out of luck, according to a spokeswoman at the Professional Photographers of America in Atlanta, Ga. And even after that, the photographer could apply for a renewal.

“Just because you buy a print does not mean you have purchased the copyright,” says the group, which, thanks to modern scanners and printers, knows pictures likely are copied — illegally — all the time. “Unless you have permission from the photographer, you can’t copy, distribute (e.g., scanning and emailing), publicly display (even putting them online) or create derivative works from (professionally taken) photographs.”

The photographer would not accept your order because he or she knew that infringing on a copyright can result in civil and criminal penalties. However, you may have one way around this law, which is designed to protect the livelihoods of photographers, the PPA tells me. If you can prove that the original photographer or photo studio is out of business, the copyright would not be enforceable and copies could be made. The PPA says you can have somebody try to search through the U.S. Patent Office or PhotographerRegistry.com, but I have had no luck finding the website. If you have information about the original photographer, you might try calling the PPA at 800-786-6277 to see if they could assist you.

Today’s trivia

Which president apparently was the first to use the term “lunatic fringe” — and what did it refer to originally?

Answer to Monday’s trivia: I am hoping that my clue “former St. Louis resident” helped you take at least an intelligent stab at naming the writer who penned the play “Green Eyes.” Yes, it was none other than two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams, who in 1970 wrote the one-act drama about a lurid one-night encounter between a soldier on leave and his new bride in a New Orleans hotel room. It remained unpublished and unperformed for nearly 30 years after his death in 1983. Bonus fact: If you’ve never read it closely, the characters in his 1944 breakthrough play “The Glass Menagerie” refer to a Soldan High School, which is where Williams spent part of his high school years in St. Louis.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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