Using images from public library special collection?
November 2, 2011 3:34 PM   Subscribe

How do I choose an image from a large collection of rare (or rare editions of) illustrated children's books at the public library? The Friends of that Library would like to use one of the images to promote a fundraiser for the collection, and I need some help navigating copyright and practical issues surrounding that choice.

The image will be sourced from a book in the collection, which has about 3,000 titles in it. I have a copy of a spreadsheet list of the collection, as well as an Access database of the records that I don't know how to use. I also have physical access to the collection if I need it. I'd like to visit the collection with a severely narrowed list, say 10-20 titles.

Ideally the first round of narrowing would bring me a list of books that I could use straight away, without having to track down copyright holders and request permission. Does there exist a set of criteria or other free solution that would help me tell which books/illustrations are in the public domain? (Secret underlying question: Am I going to need to be tracking down and emailing one million copyright holders?) There are also many titles published in Europe and Asia, where do I stand in relation to those?

From there I plan to narrow further by features (color) and subject (Fairy tales, etc). Practically, what's the best way to get the illustration I choose out of these books? It's likely that individual original editions will have failing/delicate bindings. I have access to any number of cameras and scanners. Dismantling the book is not an option, and even joking about it got me shooed out of the children's library right quick.

Are there other aspects of this that I need to consider? So far in my attempts at this project I've discovered a depth of intricacy that is beyond me, but I'd like to learn how to go about it.
posted by saguaro to Grab Bag (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Here is some info about Public Domain in the U.S., and how to determine what is and when something becomes PD. I would compare the dates/information on that page with the spreadsheet you have. That should allow you to narrow down the titles so you can create your list of books you'd like to browse through. Just remember that even if something is in the Public Domain, you still must cite your sources and/or credit the author.

As far as getting the image, the Special Collections department in the university library at which I work allows people to bring their own cameras in to capture images. As long as you don't use a flash, you should be fine. Also, some titles are in decent enough shape to be photocopied, but the staff at the library may have to do that for you.
posted by jenny76 at 3:45 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are probably other versions of most classic illustrations on the internet, which will be easier and more accessible than scanning from an antique book.
You can email the publisher, if the book and the illustrations are still in print, and get permission, most likely for free.

You could also check various image vendors, like Bridgeman Art or The ImageWorks for large jpegs--these won't be free, but they'll be color corrected, sized, etc.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:08 PM on November 2, 2011

Do you have the year published in your Access Database? And was anything in the collection published before 1923? If so, those books are in the public domain and you don't have to worry about infringing. And consider just taking a photo in good, even light of the image you'd like to use. It's the least risky to the book and the result is likely to be just fine for the intended use.
posted by ulotrichous at 8:18 PM on November 2, 2011

Response by poster: Yes, I have the year in the database! And there are lots of books in the collection published before 1923. But many of those books have been republished since then... does that change the copyright status of the images?
posted by saguaro at 5:17 PM on November 3, 2011

Not if you scan from the old ones, to my understanding, but for this application, I think you've already worried far too much about possibly infringing. The use you're describing is arguably fair, the scope of distribution is small, and you can reasonably assume that the images are in the public domain. You've already invested far more time into attempting to determine this without a doubt than the risk justifies. Your worst case scenario just doesn't merit further fretting about this... but I'm not your lawyer.
posted by ulotrichous at 5:03 PM on November 4, 2011

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