Seeking Free Victorian to WWI-era Photos
September 3, 2006 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find a large database of photgraphs like this that are in the public domain? I'm also looking for a large site with pictures from World War I that are free to use.

The guy from the link has this copyright information at the bottom of the page:

All the images on my sites are unique photographs from my own collection
and must not be copied, printed, or used in any way without my permission
they are not in the public domain, or available from any other source.

Is this possible? How is it that he "owns" the rights to these images? Is there a quick way of knowing whether or not something is public domain? I was under the impression that it was anything that hadn't had its copyright renewed after 1923 or so. I just want to make drawings out of these pictures, and if I sell or publish them, I want it to be legal.
posted by interrobang to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Here's a big list of royalty free image sites.
posted by furtive at 1:48 PM on September 3, 2006

Best answer: Some googling found this blog post -- it looks like the notice on that page can be pretty safely disregarded. The crucial quote from wikipedia: "Accurate photographs of visual artworks lack expressive content and are automatically in the public domain once the painting’s copyright has expired (which it has in the US if it was published before 1923). All other copyright notices can safely be ignored." Of course, ianal, it is all probably much more complicated than this.
posted by advil at 2:11 PM on September 3, 2006

Best answer: The Library of Congress ( is your best bet for photographs of WWI.
posted by KneeDeep at 3:22 PM on September 3, 2006

Best answer: You could also try the NYPL Digital Gallery.
posted by wannalol at 3:50 PM on September 3, 2006

If you create a unique collection of images even though the images are old enough to be in the public domain then that collection can still be copyrighted. From what I understand.
posted by cda at 4:16 PM on September 3, 2006

Best answer: ... oh, and Royalty Free doesn't mean free or public domain.

There is a list of sites with public domain images at Wikipedia.
posted by cda at 4:30 PM on September 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If you create a unique collection of images even though the images are old enough to be in the public domain then that collection can still be copyrighted. From what I understand.

So, what about drawing from individual images in the collection?
posted by interrobang at 4:31 PM on September 3, 2006

I don't know what the legal issues are, but I've seen a lot of what I call "retroactive copyright" where someone gathers a bunch of images, created in the 19th century or earlier, and then tries to slap a new copyright on them and sell them as a book-even though the new 'copyright holder' had no role in creating the imagery. One of my favorite series, the Dover pictorial archive reprints of old images and engravings, is quite wonderful, but always carries copyright information that suggests that Dover holds the copyrights on the images. One example is their "Picture Book of Devils, Demons and Witchcraft" which was published in 1971, but contains hundreds of images from the 12th to 19th century. I don't dispute Dover's copyright on their original text and layout of the book, but the book also carries the notice that:

"Up to ten illustrations from this book may be reproduced on any one project or in any single publication free and without special permission. Whenever possible, include a credit line indicating the title of the book, author, and publisher. Please address the publisher for permission to make more extensive use of illustrations in this book than that authorized above."

I see this as a shameless copyright 'land grab'. Can anyone explain this seemingly eternal copyright cycle? (i.e. work created in the 12th century, centuries before any concept of copyright existed, can be copyrighted in 1971)
posted by pantufla at 11:11 AM on September 4, 2006

About my statement concerning copyrighting collections - I don't know what countries that works in and I don't even know if it's a law anywhere. It's just what I have observed and I assume it's what the website you referred to is counting on. I noticed he is in England.

And most importantly, I'm not a lawyer.
posted by cda at 4:30 PM on September 6, 2006

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