Frequently Asked Questions




I am not qualified to give any formal legal opinion on copyright law.  However, here are a few brief notes on my understanding of the general situation in the UK.  If you have a different interpretation of the copyright rules, or if you can add anything to my comments below, please email me.

These notes are based on my discussions with librarians, galleries and other holders of collections and on reading the book below and other reference books.  However, I have been reluctant to quote directly from these books for fear of infringing copyright!

'Copyright - Interpreting the Law for Libraries,
 Archives and Information Services'
 [Graham P Cornish]  [ISBN 1-85604-409-2]

                                                                                           Peter Stubbs

It is not practical to attempt to summarise the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act  1988, its subsequent Statutory Instruments and other legislation in a few brief paragraphs. However, I hope the comments below are of some assistance.


1. * See Introduction

What is subject to copyright?

Original Works:

All 'Original works' includes writings, music, web sites, art, photographs, engravings, etc. are copyright.  They are protected by copyright whether or not they have been exhibited or published.

 However, below I have looked only at the types of work most relevant to this web site  -  writings, engravings and photographs.


When work is published, in addition to the copyright of the original work, there is also copyright on the published document, e.g. covering the layout and typescript used and the way an image is presented in a book or web site.

Copyright does not need to be registered

Copyright as described above applies automatically.  There is no need to register copyright with anybody (as is necessary in the case of protecting a trademark or patent).


2. * See Introduction

Who owns copyright on a photograph?

Personal work

The answer to this question depends on whether:

(a)  the photographer was acting as an individual or

(b) had been commissioned to take the photo for another person or company.

If acting personally, the photographer would normally own the copyright himself.

Commissioned work

In the case of photographs or other commissioned work:

-  for work commissioned before 1 August 1989, the person commissioning the photograph will normally own the copyright on the work.

-  for work commissioned from 1 August 1989 onwards, the photographer will normally own the copyright.

Transfer of Copyright

No matter who originally owns the copyright (as above) it is possible to sell or transfer copyright ownership to another person.  e.g. a publisher.


3. * See introduction

Does Peter Stubbs own copyright to all the photos on the edinphoto site?

Recent Images

These will normally be my own photos.  I own copyright for the original images and for the images on the web site.  If you wish to use any of them please ask me.

Old images

 e.g. Underwood & Underwood views, albumen prints, cartes de visite, etc.

The originals will often have been taken from my own collection.  The copyright on the original images will normally have been owned by somebody else and will normally have expired.

However, I own the copyright on the web image that I have created from these originals.  So, for these images the position is:

-   If you wish to copy one of the images on the web site, please ask me

-   If you have your own copy of one of these 'out of copyright' images, or permission to reproduce it from somebody else's copy, then, of course, you are free to reproduce it and can disregard the copyright note below it on the EdinPhoto web site.

If I can help ...

I will always consider requests for use of images, and hope to be able to help, whether it is by agreeing to your use of one of the images for which I hold copyright, or by suggesting who you should contact for permission.

For both recent images and old images, in some cases I may be able to provide a higher resolution scan than appears on the web site.


4. * See Introduction

How long does copyright  last?

70 years?

The general rules appear to be that:

(a)  Copyright belonging to an individual lasts until 70 years after the  end of the year in which the photographer or author died

(b)  Copyright belonging to a company normally lasts until 70 years after the end of the year in which the item was published.  (in practice, companies that publishe books of images taken from old postcards seem to assume that this is the rule that applies to the postcards. i.e. now, in 2011, they seem happy to reproduce old post cards published up to 1940 without seeking copyright approval.

(c)  If the author/photographer is anonymous, copyright will expire 70 years after the date of publication.

or 50 years

Crown Copyright, including Ordnance Survey maps and other documents, normally expires 50 years after the end of the year of publication.

Also, in the case of writings and engravings, but not photos, published before 1969.  If the author was dead at the time of publication (as may well be the case for books of old engravings) copyright will extend only until 50 years after the end of the year of publication.

Also 25 years  [typographical rights]

In addition to observing the photographer's or author's copyright rights, it is necessary to observe the rights of the publisher's rights. These rights, or typographical rights last for 25 years from the end of the year of publication.

Fair Dealing

There are exemptions for 'Fair Dealing', which permit small extracts from copyright works to be copied for research and private study.

Small extracts may also be taken for writing a review.

Copyright Owner Cannot be Traced

If all all reasonable steps* have been taken to try to trace a copyright holder, without success, the the Law permits the item to be reproduced provided a note is added to the reproduction saying that attempts to trace the copyright holder have failed, and inviting the copyright holder to make themself known to the publisher.

* The Law does not define 'all reasonable steps'.

Reproduction Rights

Whether or not a photograph or other item is still in copyright, if the item is owned by another person, then reproduction rights have to be considered.  See 5. below.


5. * See Introduction

What are reproduction rights?

Own Copies

The owner of an original photograph or book or other items that is no longer subject to copyright, may reproduce it  -  eg. as a single copy, or for inclusion in a book or on a web site.

Other People's Copies

However if the photograph or book is owned by somebody else  - perhaps it is a single item owned by an individual, or a book, photograph, engraving, etc. forming part of a collection in a library or gallery  -  then permission must be sought to reproduce the item, either for individual use or publication.

The Right to Charge

The owner of the photo (or other item)  can decide whether or not to permit reproduction for a particular purpose.  Where they permit reproduction, they may impose conditions and it may make a reproduction charge.

In practice I have found that libraries and others have (in almost all cases) been willing to allow me to use material from their collections without making a charge, provided that I have given appropriate acknowledgement.  This may well have been helped by the fact that my web site is entirely non-commercial.


6. * See Introduction

Who owns copyright for Valentine Postcards?

St Andrews University Library

For Valentine postcards that are still subject to copyright, I believe that copyright may well be held by St Andrews University Library.  They acquired most of the Valentine images when Valentine ceased trading.  Their address is:

St Andrews University Library

North Street,

St Andrews,


KY16 9TR 

email = or

 Valentine Trademark

I believe that, in theory at least, whatever the age of the postcard, there is also a "trademark" question to be considered.  i.e. The "JV" symbol is a trademark that should not be reproduced without permission.

I don't know whether anybody would actually have concern over this, bearing in mind that Valentines ceased trading many years ago.

However, in many cases, the 'JV' symbol appears outside the picture area or on the extreme edge of the picture, so excluding it by cropping or cloning would not normally be difficult, and would not detract from the final image.


7. * See Introduction

Who owns copyright for Underwood & Underwood?

Underwood & Underwood Stereo Views

Most or all of the images that I have seen by this company are stereo views taken around the period 1890 to 1910  So:

a)  I suspect that the company ceased to exist a long time ago. 
(I have made enquiries but not been able to trace what has happened to the company.)

b)  My interpretation of the copyright law for the UK (though I am no expert) is that these images will no longer be subject to the original copyright.

If my interpretation is correct, that means that you should be able to reproduce copies of any of their images from this period that you have, BUT if it is other people who have the images, either as originals in their books or web sites, then you will have to seek their permission before reproduce the images




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