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I've found some impressive Soviet propaganda posters and I intend to have them printed and hanged in the living room.

This is for personal use but it got me thinking. Let's assume I wanted to start a poster business and sell reproduction material from the era: What is the copyright situation with art that was commissioned by the Soviet government for the purposes of public display?

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    @Petr please don’t answer in comments.
    – Dale M
    Jan 1 '20 at 20:11
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    When was the work published?
    – user6726
    Jan 2 '20 at 0:39
  • @user6726 Feel free to target any time period. I don't have a particular one in mind. We could say, 1950-1991, if that's not too broad.
    – rath
    Jan 2 '20 at 2:28
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    You are not reproducing them for research and teaching, right?
    – Trish
    Jul 31 '20 at 15:41
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According to the Civil Code a.1281, exclusive rights on the work belong to its author until 70 years (or 74 years if the author worked during WW2 or participated in WW2) after the year of their death (or after the year of their postmortem rehabilitation if that happened).

As for the personal use, article 1273 does allow that for posters. (And forbids reproducing architecture, databases, computer programs, books and musical scores, audio/video records (under some conditions))

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  • What happens if the author is unknown and the art was commissioned by the state? Commissioned work is work-for-hire. If the art explicitly lists the copyright as one of the USSR ministries, is it now claimed by the state of Russia or is it considered to be in the public domain?
    – grovkin
    Aug 31 '20 at 16:38
  • @grovkin, if author is unknown, it's 70 years afther the year of publishing (a.1281 p.2). Commissioned work or not - it doesn't matter. Author is a person who created a work (a. 1228 p.1). Authorship is not transferable in any way (a. 1228 p.2). Copyright originally belongs to an author and then it gets passed to an employer according to a contract (a. 1228 p.3).
    – Abyx
    Aug 31 '20 at 22:39
  • I assume that if the author is unknown to you, and you make a copy 72 years after the year of publishing, you risk that the author and their date of death is known to the estate of the publisher.
    – gnasher729
    Dec 29 '20 at 13:56
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    In the US, unlike most other places, when a work is a work-for-hire (and not all commissioned works are) the employer becomes legally the "author" and the creator's death date is not relevant. Apr 27 at 18:34
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The effective law will depend on the jurisdiction where it is sought to publish such works.

In the US works first published in the 1940s through the 1970s are protected for 95 years after publication, and so would still be protected. The US requirement for copyright renewal for works published prior to 1964 will not apply to works first published outside of the US due to the Uruguay Round WTO negotiations and the resulting Uruguay Round Restoration Act (URRA) which restored such copyrights.

In the EU most countries now have life+70 years protection retroactive to the Soviet era, but many apply the "rule of the shorter term" so that if the law in the country of origin applies a shorter copyright term, that will be used. (The US does not apply that rule.) A work punished in, say 1950 is likely to be still under protection, but not if its author dies shortly after publication, or even before publication. But a would-be publisher takes the risk that the work is still under protection, and if a current owner of the copyright comes forward with evidence that the work is still protected, the publisher may be subject to damages.

In both the US and the EU, and most other places, it is the responsibility of a would-be publisher (or re-publisher) to obtain permission if a work is still protected, and if such permission is not obtained it is no defense to a copyright suit that the publisher did not know who to ask for permission from.

On the other hand, copyright is everywhere a matter of private suits, and if no copyright holder comes forward and takes action, no government will enforce the copyright. But a publisher takes the risk of a previously unknown holder coming forward.

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  • The question is tagged "russia", why are you answering about US and EU? If you wanna stay off-topic, why not also cover China or Australia?
    – Abyx
    Apr 29 at 0:41
  • @Abyx Answers for different jurisdictions are on-topic. see law.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1252/… One regular in fact often gives answers for Australia. This is because such answers may be helpful to others than the original asker. Apr 29 at 2:59

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