Astrid Bovell on June 1st, 2012
I’m not kidding…. Copyright Zombies are real… I just didn’t know they existed until today…
So there I was, doing my copyright stuff and I get an email asking about a permission request to use a photo.
The photo is of a portrait of a man; a portrait which perished in a fire over 50 years ago…. <insert eerie music>
The photograph was taken in 1936 which makes it out of copyright (photos taken prior to 1 January 1955 are out of copyright). So permission to use the photo isn’t an issue, but what about the underlying artwork? The artist passed away in 1977 so were the portrait still in existence, it would still be under copyright… Can a work be deceased but the copyright in it still live on?
Maybe it was the late night I had, or the possums in the roof that woke me up at 15 minute intervals between 5 and 6am this morning, or a combination of both, but this question was slowly eating my brain. I asked some copyright people in my network and sure enough as soon as I relayed the information, the zombie attack spread from my brain to theirs and we were all suffering (though honestly quite amused by the situation in true copyright-geek form).
Like in many zombie flicks, it turns out our protagonist (me) was so caught up in the situation, that she was being cornered into a boarded up house without thinking of an escape plan. Then an email from the University Copyright Officer hit me over the head like a blunt heavy object and put an end to the drama. Were someone to have asked me the same question about a poem, would I still question it? The Act doesn’t say anything about the death of a work, only the death of a creator.
Just because the original work is dead, it doesn’t stop the copyright from lumbering through the night (and eating my brain).