Library of Congress + Flickr project: “The Commons”

News:  Flickr and The Library of Congress announced a joint project called “The Commons.”  It includes wonderful photographs from the 1930-40s and 1910s — for which there are “no known copyright restriction.”  Apparently that means in this case of the 1930s-1940s photographs they were taken for the US government and did not get copyrights (I’m guessing).  For the 1910 photographs taken by a news service, they are simply too old to be conceivably under copyright protection today.

This is a terrific idea (and I love the incredible photos), but the copyright description by Flickr and The Library of Congress is a little bit vague.  They don’t come out and say that you can freely copy and re-use the photos, at least not on my first reading of the site.  They simply encourage you to add tags to the photos.   

Analysis:  I would think the more common use that the public wants to make of these old photos, however, is copying and disseminating.  If there is “no known copyright restriction,” the Library of Congress should come out and say that it’s in the public domain, free for all to use and copy. 

The closest they come to stating that is a statement buried in their FAQ, which I’ve copied below:

Enjoying and Re-using Photos

Q: Can I reuse the photos the Library has made available on Flickr? What are the rights and permissions on these? Can I reproduce these pictures? 
A: Although the Library of Congress does not grant or deny permission to use photos, the Library knows of no copyright restrictions on the publication, distribution, or re-use of these photos. Privacy rights may apply.  For further information see the rights, see the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection color photographs rights information and the George Grantham Bain Collection rights information.

Q: Are higher resolution copies available?
A. Yes. Higher resolution TIFF versions of the photos are available through the Prints and Photographs online catalog. Example: Click on the ”Persistent URL” link in the data information for the photograph (the URL looks like “hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsac.1a35075”) and when the new catalog record displays, click on the picture for the larger images.

Q: How do I get copies of these pictures?
A: You can download and print copies of the pictures yourself.  Higher resolution TIFF files are available through the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.  Alternatively, you can purchase copies through the Library of Congress Photoduplication Service.  For further information on purchasing copies, see the Reproductions information page on the Prints & Photographs Division Web site.

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