This blog is about Graphic Design, Vector Art, and Cartoon Illustration

Copyright on old Phoenix photos

When I first started posting photos of old Phoenix, back in 2001, I made it a point to carefully note the copyright information. The photos I started with were publicity glossies, which had been distributed to newspapers by Valley National Bank. And in the years since then I have often been asked about the copyright holders of various photos of Phoenix that turn up regularly. This is what I know:

The vast majority of images of Phoenix from the past 100 years have no existing copyright holder. In fact, publicity photos were meant to be distributed, so permission to copy was implicit. Companies like Valley Bank wanted their photos to be copied and distributed. It was part of their marketing and promotion campaign.

The right to copy these photos belonged to Valley National Bank, and they granted it freely. They wanted people to see the photos that they had paid good money for. They weren't selling photos, they were selling banking services. So, a photo of Valley Center under construction, like the one here, was meant to be distributed. If you cared to go to the trouble of copying it and posting it, it was free advertising for Valley Bank.

And, just in case you're interested, before 1977 all photos had to be filed with the Library of Congress in order to have copyright protection. After then it became optional. But it's still a good idea to file for copyright, as any copyright lawyer will tell you. They call it your "ticket to court" in case of infringement.

And also, on an aside note, libraries and museums don't hold copyright. Copyright belongs to the creator of the photo, or to whomever is assigned copyright. It never, ever, belongs to a place that stores it. Yes, I know that websites for libraries and museums claim copyright, but they don't really know how it works. My local library can stamp "copyright" all over all of their books if they want to, but it doesn't change a thing - the copyright belongs to the creator.

I hope this helps. I get emails all the time asking about copyright, and it's usually by someone who wants to do the right thing. The right thing with precious photos and documents that are in public domain is to preserve and share them. If you're nervous that there may be a "copyright issue" with a photo from 1872, send it to me and I'll take the responsibility. Because there is none.