All of my CF cards are pre-used, as I mainly shoof film, it's not worth the cost to get new ones. However, some of them have photos from the previous owner; what is the legal and artistic status of these images in the US?


The default status of photographs is automatically that they're under copyright and unless you have some sort of license agreement with the person who made them, it would be illegal for you to publish them, modify them or do pretty much anything except look at them.

  • Pardon my nitpicking, but what if there were reasonable doubt, or other factors which made it quite unlikely that there is a copyright. – NoahM May 29 '14 at 15:40
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    @Noah As Michael says, copyright is the default. If the ownership status is hard to determine, the unfortunate fact is that the photos live in a sort of legal limbo where nothing can be done. See the wikipedia article on Orphan Works for more, and particularly Orphan works in the United States – mattdm May 29 '14 at 15:52
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    @Noah: Pretty much the only way in which it would be possible for there to be no copyright would be if the photographs don't show a "minimal degree of creativity" - and I don't think you'd be interested in doing anything with them if that were the case. If in doubt, ask a lawyer. – Michael Borgwardt May 29 '14 at 15:55
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    What if one acquires what appear to be original uncopied media (e.g. photographic reversal films), either by inheritance or by inclusion within a purchased lot of goods? Would one be entitled to assume, in the absence of indications to the contrary, that the inheritance or purchase of the films constituted inheritance or purchase of rights stemming therefrom? Would digital memory cards be considered different because--unlike films--they are are often not the "primary" storage medium for the pictures that were originally stored on them? – supercat May 29 '14 at 17:34
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    @supercat The onus would be on you to make sure you are acquiring rights and not just a copy before trying to profit or publish. If you do profit or publish and find they are copyrighted by someone other than the seller, you are liable. – David Wilkins May 29 '14 at 17:53

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