Copyright, 1999, ------ State Historical Society. All rights reserved. Reproduction, storage or transmittal of this work, or any part of it, in any form or by any means, for commercial purposes, is prohibited without prior authorization of the ------ State Historical Society. This work may be used for scholarly and other non-commercial use provided that the ------ State Historical Society is acknowledged as the creator and copyright holder.You are confused, how did the State Historical Society gain copyright ownership to your family photograph? What is more important, how did the State Historical Society become the creator of the works in its collection? Do you have to acknowledge the State Historical Society's claim if you copy the photo? What if you use the photo in a book about your family you intend to sell?
I must note that I did not make up the notice quoted above, I have merely removed the name of the state to avoid getting a nasty letter from the Society's attorney. Interestingly, the same photographs also have this additional notice prominently displayed on the same page:
The ------ Collection is the physical property of the ------ Historical Society, ------. Literary rights, including copyright, may belong to the authors or their heirs and assigns. Please contact the Historical Society for information regarding specific use of this collection.This type of notice appended to historical documents and photographs is not uncommon. Does the fact that the collection is the "physical property" of the Historical Society have any bearing on the issue of copyright ownership? If the copyrights, in fact and if they exist, "belong to the authors or their heirs and assigns" how did the Historical Society gain their "all rights reserved" status?
I am aware of several large collections where the copyright is claimed on documents that did not originate with the claimant. In fact, a copyright claim is personal property. A copyright can be bought and sold, leased and rented, just like any other item of personal property. But it is "personal" to the author or creator of the work. Copyright claims, although assignable, do not arise merely out of possession of the copyrighted work. If this were true, when you purchased a copyrighted book, you would assume some or all of the copyright protection given to the author.
This whole issue is basically out of control in our society. The length of the present copyright interest entirely defeats the whole purpose for establishing copyright protection in the first place, that is, to protect the author but also to ensure innovation and invention. Article One, Section Eight of the United States Constitution states, "The Congress shall have Power ... To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." The reason for the provision was to promote progress. How is progress promoted by the length of the current copyright law? How is the "progress of science and the useful arts" promoted by institutions making unsupportable and illegal copyright claims?