Tall-Tale Postcard Gallery

The Wisconsin Historical Society has just posted a large collection of tall-tale postcards online, along with some accompanying history. Definitely worth checking out. Highlights include galleries devoted to two early masters of the tall-tale genre, William H. Martin and Alfred Stanley Johnson. It's also possible to buy reproductions of these prints through their website.

The only thing I find regrettable is that their site is full of all kinds of warnings threatening people not to use any image from the site without first obtaining written permission from them. If an image is public domain (as many of these tall-tale postcards are, since they were published before 1923), then can the Historical Society actually set conditions on their usage? It seems to me that would be like a publisher selling Shakespeare's works along with a warning that their permission must be obtained before any play is actually performed.

Folklore/Tall Tales History

Posted on Thu Dec 21, 2006


Let me recommend this site for a less formal, more big-picture look at postcard foolery.
Posted by Phred22  on  Thu Dec 21, 2006  at  06:29 PM
Oops, I forgot to paste.

Posted by Phred22  on  Thu Dec 21, 2006  at  06:31 PM
They can claim a copyright on the photos if they, for instance, fixed them up in PhotoShop before posting them.

I'm not saying the claim is valid, but they can reasonably make the claim.
Posted by Carl Fink  on  Thu Dec 21, 2006  at  08:57 PM
I wrote a nice comment then found something that completely disagreed with me: http://englishhistory.net/tudor/art.html explains things nicely. What I got out of it, that's relevant here, is that a museum's "slavish copies" cannot be copyrighted. Although the scans may have been retouched, the ones I looked at didn't look like they were much improved. I would hazard the opinion that the museum is wrong. Afterall, someone can claim they have a copyright to something even if they don't really have any right to do so. And, hey, I paid for it already! (I live in WI.)
Posted by AnnMarie Johnson  on  Fri Dec 22, 2006  at  09:44 AM
Phred22 - great site. Thanks...!
Posted by Grrr  on  Fri Dec 22, 2006  at  11:06 AM
"The user is responsible for all issues of copyright."

Well that clarifies it! As the user I declare you may use the images without further permission.
Posted by Roger  on  Fri Dec 22, 2006  at  11:07 AM
If you modify an image, you could claim ownership of the modified version, but not the original image (if it wasn't yours to begin with). In other words, I might be able to copyright the mustache I drew on the Mona Lisa, but I can't copyright the Mona Lisa.

Surely any copyrights on these postcards have expired by now and most of the copyright holders have died long ago, so the original images would certainly be in the public domain. Thus, the W.H.S. (do they call it "Whiz" for short?) is being rather silly here.

... And let me add my vote for the "braininajar" postcard gallery to Phred22's and Grrr's (hmm, my name has more vowels than both of theirs put together). Braininajar really has some terrific postcards there.
Posted by Big Gary  on  Fri Dec 22, 2006  at  02:42 PM
Cool link Phred22

Had a quick look the other one but their stupid copyright rant puts me off.

Phred22's is friendlier. (ooo-eer!)
Posted by Peter  on  Fri Dec 22, 2006  at  05:00 PM
Oh the War Poster Guilt Trip is good too..

Posted by Peter  on  Fri Dec 22, 2006  at  05:08 PM
The only valid reason for claiming copyright on the postcards is that they are presented in a new medium. The postcards, as postcards, are not copyrighted but the postcards as web images are.
Posted by Christopher Cole  on  Fri Dec 22, 2006  at  08:16 PM
They can claim copyright all they want, but if the matter actually went before a judge, I don't think they would have a case.

There are many companys abusing copyright laws in this manner, but they don't really have a legal leg to stand on. They rely on intimidation via cease and desist letters, which unfortunately usually works.

Now I'm tempted to create a website using all those images just to see what they do 😊
Posted by MadCarlotta  on  Tue Dec 26, 2006  at  08:49 AM
From what I understand, it's not a very good idea to abuse copyright laws. There are legal consequences for doing so; however, it's a possibility that this sight sincerely believes, albeit possibly wrongly, that they do own the copyright. If this is so, It would probably be a good idea to inform them of the possibility. If this happened to me, I'd immediately go do extensive research and/or higher a lawyer to figure out whether I do own the copyright.
Posted by Avi  on  Sun Apr 08, 2007  at  10:14 AM
This is a very informative and interesting discussion. I am thinking of self publishing a book of vintage postcards from the region in NYS where I reside, which I collect. I have found lots of useful data online on vintage postcard copyright. But, my question is, what about copyright of the personal notes written on the mailed postcards? I get my cards at antique shops and rummage sales. I'm sure 99% of the folks who wrote the notes are long dead. And, if their descendants have sold the card into the public venue have they released any control over the publication of Aunt Tillies note to her nephew Elmer????
Posted by Frank  on  Wed Feb 18, 2009  at  07:41 AM
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