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Old movie poster copyright law


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A friend of mine is preparing a book which features photos of old movie posters and lobby cards.  She claims that film posters printed prior to 1964 are no longer copyrighted, and therefore the images can be used in a book without permission.  This doesn't sound right to me, but I can't find any information to either confirm or deny her claim.  Does anyone in the TCM universe know the answer?  Thanks very much

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I believe that her date is off. It is my understanding that posters for all movies made prior to 1923 are in Public Domain.


I have read that most movie posters for movies made between 1923 and 1964 are in Public Domain. There are exceptions and there was a famous case regarding use of posters for: The Wizard of Oz (1939). I believe that the court held that the posters' being in Public Domain did not remove all restrictions on their use.


I have just now done a search to ensure that I am not misleading you. I was able to find:



They have a disclaimer stating that the article is not legal advice. They state what I believed to be true:


- All movie posters created on or after January 1, 1978, are copyrighted.[4]

-Some movie posters created between 1964 and 1977 are copyrighted. Some have fallen into the public domain.[5]
-Most 1923-1963 movie posters are in the public domain because (a) they were never properly copyrighted originally or (b ) the copyright was not timely renewed after the original 28 year copyright expired. 
- All pre-1923 movie posters are in the public domain.


The third item in their list applies to your situation. I call your attention to their phrase: "Most 1923-1963 movie posters..." and that their section (b ) implies that some were renewed in a timely manner.


I believe that a responsible publisher would not accept such a book for publication unless the author had researched each poster and movie card to ensure that it is in Public Domain or has received permission from the copyright holder to use the image in that manner.

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