This is a much misunderstood topic. I’ve come across quite a few Ebay traders who claim that the slides they are selling come with copyright. Usually this just isn’t true. Copyright is created automatically the moment a camera shutter fires. It lasts for 70 years after the photographer’s death. When the photographer dies the copyright ownership passes, just like all other property, to whoever the beneficiary is. All too often the beneficiary has no interest and disposes of the the slides – sadly a lot must just get dumped in the rubbish bin and end up at landfill. Other collections go to house clearance auctions. But buying the slides does not come with automatic copyright transfer. The buyer often sells them on, quite often splitting the collection into batches and selling to various different people. Slides of popular subjects, aviation, ships, trains, cars, are cherrypicked and sold off on Ebay. Pictures of, for example, buildings are mixed with the building pictures of other photographers and sold off as a mixed job lot. What started off as a unique personal collection built by one person through a lifetime ends up being mixed and muddled, taken out of all context, and flogged off all over the place. A great shame as far as I am concerned. Think how much of cultural and historic importance is being lost.
All too often the slides become separated from any connection with the photographer and nobody knows who took them. At this stage they become Orphan Works. There is a government process for getting permission to publish these ‘Orphans’ but it is time-consuming and quite costly. Strictly speaking simply publishing an OW on a website is a breach of copyright. You own the physical property but not the right to make copies of the pictures except for private personal use.
How much easier it is when the sale of slides comes with a written note transferring the copyright to the new owner. This is what I have been trying to achieve and it is not always easy. If you have an unwanted slide collection then do let me know.
This picture below was taken by Dave Denning, for at least a part of his life he worked as a helicopter pilot in Saudi Arabia. When his nephew was selling Dave’s slide collection on Ebay he was willing to write me a letter transferring copyright. On Geography Photos I have posted some of his Saudi Arabia oil industry images, also some of people in the Sahel region of northern Nigeria, skiing at lake Louise in Canada ( I worked out the location from the distinctive shape of the mountains!), and a few of a ghost town in Montana are on the way.
A lot of these slides have become dirty and dusty over the years. There is something very satisfying about cleaning them up and showing them on my website, and also in making them available to publishers. I like to think that Dave would be pleased.