There is no easy answer to the Copyright and Public Domain questions. The goal of this page is to help you to understand whether if you can use an image and for what. We also created some codes to tag the “usability” of the images you find on this site.
In any post, you can find a “Copyrights and Credits” section. Unless differently stated the copyright status refers to the United States.
Creative Commons and Public Domain
When a work is in the public domain, it is free for use by anyone for any purpose without restriction under copyright law. Public domain is the purest form of open/free, since no one owns or controls the material in any way.
Works that are in the public domain in one legal jurisdiction are not necessarily in the public domain worldwide. Copyright laws differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, both in duration of protection and what constitutes copyrightable subject matter. For example a US Government work clearly in the public domain in the United States may or may not be free of copyright restrictions and in the public domain in other jurisdiction. At present, one of the only ways to be certain that a particular work is in the public domain worldwide is to see if the copyright holder has dedicated all rights to the work to the public domain by using CC0, the “no copyright reserved” option in the Creative Commons toolkit.
Public Domain certified by important institutions
Great institutions certify if the work showcased on their sites are under Public Domain or not. However, as seen in the previous chapter, in general, this “status” is referred to as their country.
Of course, in some cases, you can be sure that content is definitely in Public Domain in any country. An example is the iconic Van Gogh’s Self Portrait kept at the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam. The museum put that work in Public Domain and can be used without restrictions worldwide.
Here a list of the most important Institutions with digital archives in the Public Domain.
The Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library, offers free universal access to books, movies & music, and 406 billion archived web pages. However, not all the works are in Public Domain as some contents can be used only for Fair Use.
For example, Hollywood Magazine from January to December 1936. To be sure, check in the “Show More” section, and you may find the “Possible copyright status” where the Library of Congress has determined that this item is not in copyright.
The Nation Archives Catalog keeps over 90 million digital files of the US Government that, by law, are in Public Domain, no matter the publication date.
The Metropolitan Museum, with 406.000 images of public-domain works in its collection available under Creative Commons Zero (CC0).
The Getty makes available, without charge, all available digital images to which the Getty holds the rights or is in the Public Domain to be used for any purpose. No permission is required.
The Rijksmuseum is a Dutch national library based in Amsterdam with a unique collection of works of arts, prints, and magazines in the Public Domain.
Gallica, the digital dept. of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, made available millions of documents, books, and magazines, mostly french, including several years of Vogue Paris. They have a different policy about their Public Domain works as downloading them they ask you to agree their policy that doesn’t allow any kind of use that may directly bring revenues!
Sorry for no citing many other Sources. Hundreds of millions of resources are available, often free on the Web. The problem is finding, sorting out, aggregate, putting in a contest, and, when necessary, digitally restoring them; this is where Ikonographia stands for.
Public Domain in The United States
Here a list of cases where works are in Public Domain in the United States (2020).
1. Anything published until 1924.
2. Anything published without a copyright notice until 1977.
3. Anything published with a copyright notice between 1925 and 1963, if the copyright was not renewed after 28 years from the first publication.
4. Advertisements published between 1924 and 1977 WITHOUT a copyright notice IN THE AD PAGE, even if the container magazine has a copyright notice.
5. Advertisements published between 1924 and 1977 WITH a copyright notice IN THE AD PAGE, if the copyright for that specific ad was not renewed, that is not frequent.
In other words, most advertisements published before 1977 are in the public domain.
6. U.S. government works (i.e., not protected by the U.S. Copyright Act). You can freely use them (in a copyright sense) without obtaining permission or paying a copyright fee. You can even edit, adapt, and republish this works without permission.
There can be possible additional copyright, especially for notable artists that own their copyrights. In this case, their work falls in the public domain 70 years after their death. However, in many cases, the artists have been directly employed by the magazine’s publishers, which were consequently the copyright holders.
United States Government Works
All U.S. government works (i.e., not protected by the U.S. Copyright Act) can be freely used (in a copyright sense) without obtaining permission or paying a copyright fee. You can even edit, adapt, and republish this works without permission.
As an example, Ansel Adam’s works are mostly copyrighted. Still, the notable work documenting Japanese Americans interned at the Manzanar War Relocation Center is in PD as the US Government hired Mr.Adams.
Likewise, the work for Farm Security Administration by Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Russel Lee, Gordon Parks, and more are in Public Domain.
The Magazines Copyright Renewal Nightmare
Works published in the United States from 1925 to 1963 fell into the Public Domain if the copyright was not renewed with the Copyright Office during the 28th year after publication.
But how can you know if the copyright of work was renewed or not? There are four ways to go.
1. Go to the Online Books Page or to The Internet Archive “Catalog of Copyright Records” page. This research is complicated, even for professionals.
2. Use the U.S. Copyright Office paid search service. It’s effective but expensive.
3. Go to the invaluable section of upenn.edu “First copyright renewals for periodicals” edited by John Mark Ockerbloom, that allows you to precisely determine the copyright status of the content of hundreds of magazines.
For instance, if you go the Photoplay Page you can determine whether any issue or specific content is under the copyright or not.
4. Follow the tags of Ikonographia. In any post, you can find a “Copyrights and Credit” section. Unless differently stated, copyright status refers to the United States.
rightsstatements.org - Copyright status in United States
rightsstatements.org is a non-profit organization that determines if an item is under copyright, partial copyright, or public domain in the United States.
Where possible, we’ll add their logo to the pages/pictures.
The same copyright status may not be valid for other countries.
Why do ikonographia charge for digital files in Public Domain?
Unless differently specified, the images in Public Domain on this website are freely downloadable.
We charge a moderate amount for the high-resolution files. To keep this site is very expensive, and we don’t add advertisements.
All files are reproduced in high-resolution from original prints or negatives.
In some cases, the files are taken from existing digital files and digitally restored at the higher quality available today. Seamless double pages reproduction for instance require hard work.
Info on copyrighted images
The images in the Stock Archive are copyrighted. By purchasing them, you will be entitled to an unlimited Royalty-Free license.
The license is entitled to the buyer as an individual or organization, and it’s non-transferable and non-sublicensable. In other words, you cannot resell the images or prints made from those images.