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What's the copyright status?

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If you read material from the US and UK copyright offices and summaries of recent court cases involving similar situations then the situation is pretty clear. Reading similar court case decisions is one of the best ways to understand what's been upheld and has established precedent.

PKT and the RWS deck is out of copyright in the US (published before 1923). However, any work that re-prints this material cannot be sold in parts of the world that have different copyright laws that extend copyright - i.e., the UK, EU, etc.

In the UK all creators of an original work are deemed copyright holders of the work unless there is a clear, written contract that states otherwise. Copyright extends from the life of the last remaining co-creator plus 70 years.

Random House bought out Rider & Co. They, along with Waite's heirs, assigned the copyright to USGames to uphold. I'm not sure about Smith's heirs - if there are any.
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Yes, similar cases are useful comparisons, but they're no substitute for knowing the actual details of the putative "recent" cases US Games claims to have won.

As already stated, all of Waite's text is public domain in the UK/EU. That the UK/EU copyright on Colman-Smith's original artwork is still in force is beyond question, but what is not so certain is who actually owns it now. Depending on what the arrangements were between her and Waite, because of a clause in new legislation intrioduced after the first publication, there is a clear possibility that the copyright - in part or in whole - reverted to her estate after 1958 (i.e. seven years after her death, rather than 42 years after publication). In that context, US Games claims may actually be based on a series of mistaken assumptions over who owned the artwork copyright from 1953 onwards.

Of course, it will all be moot come 1 January 2022...
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Just want to chime in with thanks to everyone and especially Yorkshireman for this very educational discussion which I am following with great interest.
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It's worth remembering that in general terms rights holders - or those who believe or purport themselves to be rights holders - have a tendency to get increasingly desperate as the end of the term of copyright protection approaches. Some will actively lobby for changes to the law to seek to extended the period of protection, snatching a few more years just before the copyright lapses, i.e. Disney. Others will use any loophole possible to try to retain some last vestige of control over a concept in general, even where most manifestations of it are in the public domain, e.g. the Conan-Doyle estate and Sherlock Holmes.

There used to be an anomaly in UK copyright that stipulated that unpublished works were protected indefinitely after the author's death until they were published, after which they got 50 years from publication. Legislators tried to address this in the 1988 Act with a clause that stated that any work unpublished at the time the Act became law would have 50 years protection from that point onwards. Since the legislation went live in 1989, that means 2039, and thus these are now often referred to collectively as "2039 works."

Recently there has been much pressure, particular from the academic world, libraries, and museums, that this made little sense, as in many cases free use could not be made of the unpublished works of authors whose published works have long been in the public domain. This was seen as particuarly problematic for academics, as under UK legislation unpublished works (unlike published ones) can only be quoted with the express permission of the rights holder/s, and in some cases that was either not forthcoming, or impossible to secure in practical terms (e.g. long-dead author, no easily identifiable heirs).

The government eventually put the matter out to consultation, allowing interested parties to put their respective cases. The general view from academics, libraries, and museums was that the same rules should be applied to unpublished works as published ones, i.e. death plus 70- years, which even if not expired would at least allow reasonable quotaging (similar to "fair use" concept in US copyright). Inevitably the presentatives of rights holders argued that they still got some income from the relatively small number of unpublished works by authors whose published work had by then lapsed, and so it would be terribly unfair to deprive them of it. This despite the fact that many of them had already benefitted to a far greater degree by the unexpected "windfall" of the term for published works being increased from 50 years to 70 by the 1995 Regulations, not least because the latter even revived some previously lapsed copyrights.

This is, in fact, exactly what happened to Waite's personal copyright. As he died in 1942, it lapsed after the end of 1992, was revived by the 1995 Regulations in 1996, and then expired again after 2012. For three years his works were actually public domain in the UK, then went back in the box again for another 17 years.

I will leave others to guess what the UK government eventually decided to do...
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I thought it might be interesting to point out, in the context of this discussion of copyright, that sometimes very long-established claims are thrown out when diligent research proves them false. The most recent example of this is Warner-Chappell's claimed copyright to "Happy Birthday to You." (Yes, they have collected millions in licensing fees for this favorite birthday song.) It took a concerted effort on the part of artists and producers to prove to a court that WC in fact had no claim on the work. The judgment came last September and WC settled with the plaintiffs in December.
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Copyright status was raised in the Borderless Rider Waite Smith, help! thread. Rather than totally go completely off topic there, I thought it best that any ongoing discussion of copyright status, claims, and enforcement be brought here.

I did also raise the recent ruling on the Happy Birthday song as an example. I think it illustrates that a company’s aggressiveness and success in collecting licensing fees is not evidence that they have any actual legal basis for doing so. I think it should be noted that the judge in the Warner/Chappell case ruled that their copyright claim applied only to a specific piano arrangement rather than the the lyrics or overall melody. Likewise, US Games may have a legitimate claim over certain aspects of the cards they have produced since the 70’s, but that does not necessarily extend to the original images.

I think this point about who actually owns the copyright is relevant and may not have been explored fully:
Quote:
Originally Posted by truelighth View Post
...There is a lot of talk about US Games owning the copyright. But they don't! US Games has been licenced by Random House to publish the deck, which bought Rider and is acting on behalf Waite's estate. Ok, so Random House has assigned US Games to uphold the copyright. But I wonder if it really came to a court case, if Random House would not have to act themselves instead of US. Games.

Anyway, I wonder how they want to prove this about the rights of Pixie's estate. If Random House clearly owns the copyright and acts on behalf of the estate of Waite. Where does Pixie's estate come in?

That won't prevent them from enforcing their rights by all means nessesary. But still...

Btw, I understood that the black&white images are in the public domain. Just not the coloured versions of the RWS.

In regards to the borderless deck that started the conversation:
Quote:
Originally Posted by rwcarter View Post
I've spoken to Benebell and that's what she did. And that's what she told USG when they contacted her about it.
(altered a physical for herself rather than reproducing a deck)

Quote:
Originally Posted by gregory View Post
You note then, that they DID follow it up. They still do.
I fully acknowledge that US Games will claim, posture, intimidate, threaten (with legal action, not physical harm ) anyone who attempts to use the images. What I do not acknowledge, is that they have the legal standing to do so (at least not on pre-1922 images in the US). And I did previously note that there would still be risk involved if you went ahead and used the images. You never know how a judge is going to rule, they are funny sometimes. But I think it should be stressed that US Games would also putting themselves at risk in pursuing a lawsuit. I honestly do not believe they want this issue in a courtroom in the United States. If it does come down to a judicial ruling and they are unsuccessful, then everyone will know. They are better off doing everything they can to get people to back down quietly.

Quote:
Originally Posted by gregory View Post
Even in the US. Tarotbear, in a thread here somwhere, is also in the US and they wouldn't allow him to use coloured images, even though he had paid for a licence with his first printing of his book. For a second run - he would have had to pay for another.
I am aware of Tarotbear’s experience, though I do not know all the details. What I do know is that when you approach a company for permissions, they will tell you the cost of using their content and/or trademark name (or they can simply deny permission altogether). They have no obligation, nor is it in their interest, to let you know if there are any less expensive or free alternatives.

Finally, I want to say that I have no particular bone to pick with US Games. I own dozens of their decks and I’m sure I will purchase many more before I am through. I would hate to see them go out of business or stop producing tarot decks. But I do have a strong belief in the original intent of copyright law—to encourage authors and artists to produce creative work. I hate to see it being used to stifle new creative works that derive from the content of now deceased creators.
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Copyright laws really have become cudgels instead of helping with their original intent. And what's more ironic is that many of the works we depend on today wouldn't have been made with today's law. Let's say, if everyone existed at the same time, the creators of the Sola Busca would have probably sued the creators of the RWS because of cards like the Three of Swords that show the work is clearly derivative. That's assuming the SB wouldn't have been patented to protect its innovative pictorial pips in the first place. The Golden Dawn would have sued both Waite and Crowley for using its material to create their own decks, none of it would ever see the light of day, and the "Tarot Renaissance" would never have come to pass.

And yet with all that, PCS still died a pauper.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cSpaceDiva View Post
I am aware of Tarotbear’s experience, though I do not know all the details. What I do know is that when you approach a company for permissions, they will tell you the cost of using their content and/or trademark name (or they can simply deny permission altogether). They have no obligation, nor is it in their interest, to let you know if there are any less expensive or free alternatives.
I know ALL the details, as I pointed him to such a totally free alternative ! And I was particularly disgusted given that he had already paid once.
Quote:
Originally Posted by cSpaceDiva View Post
Finally, I want to say that I have no particular bone to pick with US Games. I own dozens of their decks and I’m sure I will purchase many more before I am through. I would hate to see them go out of business or stop producing tarot decks. But I do have a strong belief in the original intent of copyright law—to encourage authors and artists to produce creative work. I hate to see it being used to stifle new creative works that derive from the content of now deceased creators.
This, too. I think US GAmes are great - on the whole. But on THIS one - not so great.
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Jack of all trades  Jack of all trades is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cSpaceDiva View Post
But I do have a strong belief in the original intent of copyright law—to encourage authors and artists to produce creative work. I hate to see it being used to stifle new creative works that derive from the content of now deceased creators.
Alas, the wealthy owners of intellectual property have lobbied Congress time and again to extend the duration of copyright. The original term was 14 years with option to renew for another 14. Now it is the lifetime of the author plus 70 years for natural persons and 95 years from publication (or 120 years if unpublished) for corporations! Not only do such excessive terms protect the monopolies of the rich, they vastly increase the number of "orphan works" for which copyright owners may exist but cannot be found.
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MissNine  MissNine is offline
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In the US, US Games does have some ownership over the RW images.
From Wikipedia:
In the United States, the deck fell into the public domain in 1966 (publication + 28 years + renewed 28 years), and thus has been available for use by American artists in numerous different media projects. U.S. Games Systems, Inc. has a copyright claim on their updated version of the deck published in 1971, but this only covers new material added to the pre-existing work (e.g. designs on the card backs and the box).
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