Cottingley Fairy Copyright Question

image I have the good fortune of having a site that ranks relatively high in search engines. But this also means that I have the misfortune of easily attracting the attention of anyone out there who might object to something on my site, or who might want to claim that I'm infringing their copyright by my use of some material. So, in the past, I've had National Geographic threaten me, plus I've had complaints from the Time Travel Mutual Fund and the Human-Flavored Tofu Company (see below), among others.

Now the British Science and Society Picture Library has joined this list. They've sent me a cease-and-desist letter demanding that I either remove all images of the Cottingley Fairies from my site, or pay them a licensing fee for their use.

This raises an interesting legal question. The Cottingley Fairy images were taken in 1917 and published (in England) in 1920. They were also published in America. The earliest American publication of them that I'm aware of is the American edition of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Coming of the Fairies (George H. Doran Co., New York, 1922).

U.S. law states that everything published in America before 1923 is now in the public domain. Therefore, in America the Cottingley fairy images are in the public domain. But the law in the U.K. is that the images remain under copyright for 70 years after the death of the photographer. The two women who took the images died in the 1980s, so the images will remain copyrighted in Britain until around 2050.

So do the British copyrights have any legal status in America? I'm not sure. The closest parallel I can find is the case of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, which is copyrighted in the UK, but is in the public domain in the US. Efforts to enforce the UK copyrights in America have not been successful. When Project Gutenberg made the text of Peter Pan freely available on its site, it simply added a disclaimer noting that the text was public domain in the U.S., but not elsewhere.

So for now I'm telling the Science and Society Picture Library that the images are remaining exactly where they are. I've already traded five or six emails with them about this, and they don't seem willing to give up their claim. But I don't think they have a valid case, so I'm not budging.


Posted on Thu Jun 02, 2005


Wally - You don't want to go there. This insane bitch actually accused our beloved Alex of murdering her brother! By means of promoting open, intellectual discussion, as I recall. Not a pretty sight.
Posted by stork in the absence of all other descriptions  on  Sun Jun 05, 2005  at  08:44 PM
Besides which, if her site is down, maybe it's a good sign. Perhaps she's actually getting the mental help that the general consensus seemed to think she needs.
Posted by stork  on  Sun Jun 05, 2005  at  10:38 PM
Seems to me you're doing them a favor by generating interest in these photographs and in their organization on a worldwide scale. Do they have all the money they want/need to fund their ongoing efforts? Do they have all the money they want/need for expanding their efforts? If not then perhaps they could benefit when you draw attention to their role in the safeguarding of these wonderful images.

My $0.02 --intjudo, too lazy to log in
Posted by intjudo  on  Tue Jun 07, 2005  at  09:10 PM
i think it's like gambling, it depends where server is, there are stated wich gambling is ilegel but you can gambel online because it's not in the same country, if your server is in the US
they can shout till tomorow your O.K
Posted by Shahar  in  Israel  on  Sun Jun 19, 2005  at  10:20 AM
In the uk according to the government's intellectual property website "Who owns copyright in photographs taken before 1 January 1945?

For such photographs, where copyright has been revived, which is the only way copyright can still subsist in photographs of this age, there are different rules which could affect who owns the revived copyright"
The photos would have been out of copyright in the early 1970's (50 years after they were taken) and copyright could only have been revived if in 1988 they were copyrighted in another EU country with longer terms of copyright.
Posted by maggie  in  Cottingley, UK  on  Sat Jul 02, 2005  at  07:28 AM
Haha. You shouldn't have mentioned her. Now she'll come and spam this thread. Any resolution to this conflict Alex?
Posted by Archibold  on  Fri Aug 12, 2005  at  07:35 PM
Not to say that she isn't real wink
Posted by Archibold  on  Fri Aug 12, 2005  at  07:41 PM
Apparently I won the conflict. Or, at least, the UK image archive totally backed off, and I haven't heard from them in 2 months. Which means, I presume, that I was correct. The cottingley fairy images are in the public domain.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Sun Aug 14, 2005  at  08:49 PM
hi, i just found this thanks to the wall street journal, you've got famous! i come from the area these photos were shot in and they belong to a guy called glen hill, his mum was elsie hill who shot the pictures years ago but she only died about 10 years ago so they must be still in copyright! whhy are you lot so proud to be ripping this old guy off?? his mum took the pictures and you all say you can do what you want with wouldn't like it if your mum left you something in her will and loads of people robbed it...why do you think this is ok?i love the pictures as well even though they are dead fake but i wouldn't rob them. rhia
Posted by Rhia  in  bradford UK  on  Sat Oct 15, 2005  at  04:00 PM
Uh, no. I would in no way support my mother's legacy if people are trying to cash in on old hoaxy pictures just because a website posted them on the internet. It's ridiculous, especially in this day and age. Alex should and can do what he wants with them since nothing he's doing with the pictures is for personal profit (i.e. making t-shirts out of them, mugs, etc). Don't rag on this site and start saying he stole them. He already won the argument anyway, get over it.
Posted by Dan  on  Sat Oct 15, 2005  at  04:09 PM
Rhia, it's the law that after a certain amount of time all creative works pass into the public domain. Maybe you don't like that law. Maybe you think, for instance, that the descendants of Shakespeare and Dickens should still be collecting royalties from their works. But nevertheless, the law about copyright remains the same. And the Cottingley Fairy images have passed into the public domain. At least, they have in America.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Tue Oct 25, 2005  at  02:08 PM
They changed the rules in the UK some years back when they moved from 50 years to 70 years. In the past the old rules in Britain were that the copyright was owned by the taker of the photograph and the copyright remained in force until 50 years AFTER THE PHOTO WAS TAKEN. This means that the last of the Cottingley photos entered the public domain in 1971 or 1972. When the rules were changed to 70 years, photos that were already in the public domain WERE EXEMPTED FROM THIS CHANGE. So, so far as the UK is concerned, these photos have been in the public domain for about three-and-a-half decades.
Posted by ticktackJoe  in  UK  on  Mon May 29, 2006  at  04:10 PM
Hi Taylor! You are so stupid but I love you anyway! I can't wait till our wedding! Love you Write back bye!
Posted by Monkey.B.D.  in  Happy Fairy Land  on  Tue May 29, 2007  at  12:14 PM
Posted by BeBad  in  Germany  on  Mon Oct 05, 2009  at  12:33 PM
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