I read (mostly on Wikipedia), that copyright to a written work expires 70 years after the author's death, or 95 years after the publication by a corporation.

Having said that, the status of journal articles (scientific or other), that includes pictures and photographs, is still unclear to me. I'll take a very simple example to illustrate this.

Here you can find an old journal article from 1901, written by one person, but published in a journal. It contains pictures and photographs made in that time. Is the entire article, including these media, also entirely in public domain (i.e., I could just take the whole thing as it is and publish it as a book for commercial purposes)?

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    Tangentially related: at least in modern times the author of a scientific article typically transfers their copyright to the publisher of the journal upon publication. Commented May 10, 2021 at 19:29
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    You didn't tag your question with a country name, so here is my answer for Germany: There are two types of "copyright": One type covers "invented" types of works (such as literature, computer software or artistic photography). It expires 70 years after the death of the inventor. The other type covers for example all kinds photographs. It expires 25 years after the photo has been taken. It does not matter if the copyright in other countries are still active: In Germany, the copyright of the pictures in the article has expired in 1926. Commented May 11, 2021 at 5:56
  • In the USA: The OP says the article was "from 1901" and there is currently no enforceable US copyright for anything published prior to 1927 (or 1923 for "sound recordings"), even with proper copyright notice and registrations. Author's date of death is not a factor until 1978. A later re-publication does not extend the original copyright duration. Things published in other countries obviously may be subject to laws that provide for different rights.
    – Upnorth
    Commented Apr 17, 2022 at 15:51

1 Answer 1


The article is public domain. The pictures aren’t

If this was first published in the British Empire (as it then was), then The UK is the place of first publication. What follows is its status under UK law, other jurisdictions may have different results.

The original article is public domain because H. C. P. Bell died in 1937 meaning copyright on everything he wrote expired 31 December 2007. If he’d lived until 1951 or later it would still be under copyright (in 2021).

However, this isn’t the original article because:

Text on this page extracted from an original copy of Annual Report.

The photographs were taken when I visited the site in 1991, and again in November 1995.

The bits that this unknown author added, including the photographs, are their copyright. Since they were clearly alive in 1995 (due to the well known pirate aphorism “dead men take no photos”) the copyright in those is still current.

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    Under US law (as opposed to the law of Ceylon or the UK), the text became public domain well before 2007. The Life+70 term applies, in US law, only to works created or first published after the effective date of the 1976 copyright act. so US copyright would have lapsed in 1996, if not before, if that matters now. (It might have lapsed sooner if the copyright was not renewed. although the URRA might have restored it until 1996) Commented May 10, 2021 at 15:59
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    @Kevin Modern copyright law is still confusing.
    – Mast
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 17:16
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    @Mast: Maybe so, but at least nowadays it doesn't involve goofy things like "the copyright notice was invalid" or "the US government seized the copyright after World War II and then lost it."
    – Kevin
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 18:56
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    @Kevin There were reasons, some of them arguably good reasons, why US copyright law under the 1909 act was a tangle. It wasn';t really designed, it was bolted together bit by bit. but here on law.se we try to explain what the law is or was, not why it is the way it is or was, for the most part. Commented May 10, 2021 at 19:08
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    @Kevin: The purpose of the notice requirement was to ensure that anyone who wanted to know if a work was in the public domain would be able to ascertain that. IMHO, the law should provided a means by which someone publishing a work with a defective notice could register their work in a special registry of such works, upon payment of a supplemental registration fee intended to minimize the amount of time people investigating the PD status of works would have to spend searching that registry for amended notices. Even with its defects, though, the law seems much saner...
    – supercat
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 21:25

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