I can has copyright permission?
June 4, 2008 3:14 PM   Subscribe

Yet another copyright question. Seeking advice or success stories on locating copyright owner for strange book from the 60s.

Copyright management is a large part of my work, and while I strongly oppose things like the proposed Orphan Works Bill, I am now in the position where I would like to obtain permission to reuse an image, but am having a hell of a time tracking down the copyright owner.

The original image appears in this strange pet book that was published in the 60's (I am guessing, there is no date inside), by "Pet Libary Ltd". Further research found that they were owned by a company called Sternco which is now a dedicated real estate company. They later sold off the pet business to Hartz. Both companies operate out of New Jersey, which is the state where this original "Pet Library LTD" address is listed in the book.

Now my emails have basically gone unanswered, phone calls to both businesses above are greeted with confusion (understandably), and I am basically at a dead end.

I assume that if I used the US copyright search system where you pay someone by the hour to go through their records, I would probably come up with similar results to the two companies above. If the publisher still actually existed, this would probably be alot easier as I know most publishers have reproduction and rights departments.

I won't use the image without copyright, but I am wondering if anyone else has been down a similar road in terms of tracking down hard-to-find copyright holders, and if so, how did you do it? Otherwise, is there any other avenue that I may be overlooking in terms of how to approach this large company? Godspeed hive mind.
posted by LongDrive to Law & Government (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should also add that the author of the book has a very common name making it difficult to attack things from that angle...
posted by LongDrive at 3:22 PM on June 4, 2008

I am neither a lawyer nor a copyright specialist, but I did for a time work in a position where I was handling rights and clearances for episodes of a television series. In cases like yours, when we could not find the copyright holder for images we felt we needed, our attorney advised us to document that we had made a good-faith effort to locate the copyright holder, and then to go ahead and use the image / photograph / whatever, while being prepared to pay the copyright holder if he / she / it came a-knocking.

I don't know whether this was good advice from our attorney or not, but I suggest that you consult yours. As someone for whom "copyright management is a large part of [your] work," you do have access to legal counsel, right?

I should mention that this was in the United States. I don't know what jurisdiction you're in.
posted by dersins at 3:32 PM on June 4, 2008

I'd probably be willing to look up the copyright record for you next time I'm at the LOC, if it isn't too much work. My fees are for more reasonable than the professionals. (But then, you get what you pay for, heh)

Incidentally, what's the title? LOC's online catalog shows a bunch of books from 1981 from Pet Library Ltd. Perhaps it was reissued?
posted by meta_eli at 4:11 PM on June 4, 2008

Ah, I almost forgot: How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work

For works first published before 1978, the complete absence of a copyright notice from a published copy generally indicates that the work is not protected by copyright...
posted by meta_eli at 4:28 PM on June 4, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far! That LOC online catalog is great as well. I don't know how I didnt find that earlier.

Yes I do have access to counsel, but as Meta brings up, there is a copyright notice so I would be hesitant to go down that route just yet and even run the risk, as I don't have TV budgets behind me :)

I just put in a special order request through copyright.com, the copyright clearance center. Has anyone ever used that at all?
posted by LongDrive at 8:02 PM on June 4, 2008

We use Copyright Clearance Center. In my experience, if you couldn't locate the publisher, they probably won't be able to either.
posted by shiny blue object at 8:33 AM on June 5, 2008

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