What's the copyright status?


US Games would disagree. And wiki is edited very very very regularly by people on both sides of this argument - next week you will probably find it saying that USG has copyright till 2020 (I think that is the current "theory" by the person who puts that up !)

Don't forget that ANYONE can edit wikipedia. I have frequently done it myself (nothing tarot, stuff to do with Elizabeth the First, last time.) It;'s fun - but FULL of errors and gets a lot of schoolkids - and even university students - into trouble for getting their facts wrong. :bugeyed:


USG is claiming copyright through the end of 2021, see for example this. That is 70 years after Pamela Colman Smith's death, rounded up to the end of the year. This is the latest date postulated by any of the theories I've come across. Many earlier dates have been suggested, based on various lines of reasoning; some of which are fairly well worked out. Without a court decision, which seems unlikely, there will continue to be some uncertainty.

The changes USG made for their 1970s edition essentially consisted of minor lithography changes and a new card back. Those changes are presumably in copyright for 95 years after publication. The copyright on these changes does not apply to any of the earlier editions.


On this whole copyright issue, please remember that even though U.S. Games enforced the copyright and sends out 'cease and desist' notices, they do not own the copyright. They are only licenced to use the images. The copyright lies with the Waite estate. It is Random House and the Waite Estate that have also charged US Games with upholding this copyright on their behalf.

And this is also where another question comes into play. According to UK law, the copyright is valid until 70 years after the death of both creators. However, Pixie was paid by Arthur for her job and her art was therefore transferred to the Waite Estate. So I am wondering to what extent this has some influence. Would this mean that the Waite Estate is the sole owner, or does the legacy and Estate of Pixie also have a claim.

Anyway, the whole subject is doubtful, but unless someone tests it in court, we will have to assume the deck still falls under copyright until 2021.

U.S. Games does own the copyright on their reproductions, which for instance means the many re-colourings etc. but also the 1971 plaid back. As well as the new back on the commemorative deck.

I remember someone asking why they didn't they use the Roses&Lilies on this deck, as that would be more true to the original Pam- Roses&Lilies. Well, the answer to this is simple: this newly designed back gives them a better claim to copyright.

I remember reading somewhere in this thread that the deck was not in copyright until 1966. I am not sure this was the case. Yes, there have been several reproductions before U.S. Games version. One of the most known ones is the University Books version. Following the success of University Books, Rider itself started publishing the deck again as well (until 1979, blue box version) and then there was Merrimack, who ripped off University Books again. It seems University Book and Merrimack didn't have a licence, but we can't be certain of this. The only versions that were definitely printed with disregard of copyright and without licence are the ones by DeLaurence.

Winter Hare

The answer may be contained in the original post...

I would look at who the owner of the copyright is and along with Sybil Waite would make them the subject of a web search.

Winter Hare

I’ve found a second source for the lawsuit document at Leagle. Still not sure if I can link to it from here.

If you run the search above you will find it (or some of the terms below I guess)

Didn’t want to link to the .pdf I came across late last night (which had a goblygook title until an hour ago, but still comes up in the search)

Case No. 3:15-CV-00025-SRU.



United States District Court, D. Connecticut.

January 29, 2016.

a. Nature of the proceedings (Article 3, c)
Civil lawsuit alleging breach of contract with respect to a copyright licensing agreement, an alleged trademark licensing agreement, and an alleged agreement to transfer trademarks.


Makes for some very interesting reading, especially the the counter claim!

Sooo, I would say the the status is pending…


Many thanks for this information, WinterHare (btw here ist the link). This is the thing we have all waited for: that a biggish buisiness finally takes care that this copyright mess will be sorted out.

A discussed earlier in the thread, US copyright is unaffected. The original RWS images are in the public domain there, no doubt about that. This is about UK law affecting all of Europe, as AGM is in Europe. If Random House fails to come up with a chain of copyright all the way from Pamela Coleman Smith's heirs (which is quite unlikely to exist), then this should have been it for USG.

Winter Hare

You’re welcome trzes, and my thanks go to chaosbloom, yourself and every single person who contributed to this thread and the others like it, to keep this issue alive on AT, because it is my sincere opinion that the cards themselves are not served well by the current situation. Hahaha I wanted to pm you ALL last night.

No matter how frustrating and annoying the situation is we are blessed with lovely, generous and cool collectors/ curators who have enabled us to have the cards in digital form and this is helping so much with studies of the deck. I urge anyone who is interested in discovering and understanding the meaning of the cards as created by Smith & Waite to study these digitised images.

Not having a copyright symbol on them is so liberating… and how they should be.


Oh wow, that is most interesting! Thanks Winter Hare for finding this. It looks like US Games went after AGM, Konigsfurt and Cartamundi. If they did, bad mistake. Because AGM, Konigsfurt and Cartamundi have a hell of a counterclaim! Which actually fits with what I said before, that US Games has a copyright on their design (the 1971 deck), but not on every version. I can't wait to see how this will play out.


Does anyone know what the ISA Tarot and Tarot-Karten decks at the center of the lawsuit are? I can't seem to find anything about them.


Konigsfurt did put out a Waite. I have it - but not with me. They also printed the first version of the PCS deck Lo Scarabeo issued.

Looked in my database - the Jubilaum edition, in a wooden box and gold edges. Totally Waite.