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Daniel Cox

Second World War Photographic Images and Copyright

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Hello All

Since the topic of Copyright regarding Second World War photographic images is often mentioned on this and related Internet discussion forums I feel the following below may be of some interest;


In Australia all Australian photographs both Private and Government taken prior to 1 January 1955 (regardless of publication or otherwise) are Copyright expired.

Photographers & Copyright Information Sheet No. G011v15 by the Australian Copyright Council. February 2012



Canada is similar to Australia regarding Photographic Material although in Canada’s case the cut off date for Copyright expired photographs is 1 January 1949. Like Australia this includes both Private and Government photographs taken prior to the 1949 date. So anything captured prior to 1949 by Canadians is Copyright expired and is now in the Public Domain.

Creative Commons Website


Boffin + Wonk Blog by Andy Kaplan-Myrth


United Kingdom

Although the United Kingdom is similar to those mentioned above with respect to Crown Copyright expiration, the same cannot be said for non Crown Copyright works.

Any Crown Copyright photographs taken prior to 1 June 1957 both published and unpublished are Crown Copyright expired and are now therefore Public Domain.

Now that we have the easy part out of the way, lets look at Copyright Duration for photographs taken before 1 June 1957 excluding Crown Copyright material.

If the creator of a photograph is known Copyright expires 70 years after the death of the creator. While if the creator is not known (which does not absolve you from trying to find out), Copyright expires 70 years after creation of the work or alternatively 70 years after the work was made available to the public within 70 years of its creation.

Copyright Related Rights by The National Archives. December 2011


United States of America

The United States is a veritable nightmare regarding Copyright unless it was a Photograph captured by a US Federal Government employee or Federal Government entity unless specifically made Public Domain by the creator of the photograph.

When U.S. Works Pass into the Public Domain by the University of North Carolina. November 2003


Frequently asked questions about Copyright by the United States Government Interagency Group CEND. October 2008


Other Countries

Regarding the Copyright of Second World War period photographic Images from the following countries;

Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, China, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Korea, Norway, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South korea, Spain, Sudan, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Yemen, Zimbabwe and others.

All I can say is I have no idea! So do have fun finding out and also please share what you learn.

Things That Make You Go Hmmm

If you follow the links below you will see the same photographic image as offered by both the Australian War Memorial (AWM) of Australia and the Imperial War Museum (IWM) of the United Kingdom as 005159 and C 456 respectively. This photographic image shows the men and Hurricanes 87 Squadron (Sqn.) Royal Air Force (RAF) at Lille-Seclin during December of 1939 as photographed by Mr. H Hensser an RAF Official Photographer.



Interestingly the Imperial War Museum claims Copyright for this Crown Copyright expired photographic image while the Australian War Memorial declares this photographic image is actually Copyright expired – public domain.

Or there is the same photographic image as linked below that is offered both by Sidewinder Publishing Ltd through ww2images.com and the IWM as A04849A and C 1731 respectively. This image shows some men of No. 1 Repair Centre working on a 501 Sqn. RAF Hurricane as apparently photographed by an RAF Official Photographer at Reims-Champagne during May of 1940.



While the IWM again claims Copyright for this Crown Copyright expired photographic image Sidewinder also claims Copyright as well while generously giving you the opportunity to use this image after obtaining a usage license via Getty Images.

Or there’s this Crown Copyright expired photographic image linked below of RAAF pilot Clive Caldwell taken at Strauss in the Northern Territory during 1943 that is offered by the AWM and IWM as NWA0349 and CF 90 respectively. The IWM claims Copyright while the AWM claims it is expired



The above-mentioned examples of competing claims regarding Copyright status, are only a small sample of a very common occurrence with respect to Copyright expired images in collections, that are held by both Private Individuals Government and Non-Government Organisations in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

In considering the above it is worth remembering that all United Kingdom Crown Copyright photographs taken prior to the 1st of June 1957 are now Crown Copyright expired while all Australian photographs both Private and Government taken prior to the 1st January 1955 are Copyright and Crown Copyright expired.


It is also worth reiterating that there are plenty of Second World War photographic images that are not Copyright expired, like the Bristol Blenheim or Vickers Wellington as captured by Robert Capa for example as linked to below.




If you are looking for many of the Hi Resolution images and much more than what you have seen in various posting in this and similar discussion forums I recommend visiting the following websites;






Plus many more, so have fun finding them.


In closing it is fair to say that all Australian and Canadian Private and Government plus United Kingdom Government photographic images from the Second World War and earlier are Copyright or Crown Copyright expired works.

It is also fair to say that United States of America Federal Government photographic images generally have no Copyright protection applied to them at all.

Whereas alternatively all United States Private and many probably most United Kingdom Private photographic images from the Second World War are likely to remain protected by Copyright to this date.



Disclaimer: I am not a legal practitioner so don’t just take my word for it go and find out for yourself and seek appropriate legal advice if required.

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Thanks for the time and effort in trying to untangle this subject.


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Most interesting. This only goes to show how copyright, still based on closed national jurisdictions, is slowly becoming meaningless when you can "publish" something simultaneously in over 200 countries. And lest there be any doubt, posting something on forums like this does count as publication, since anyone in the world can look at it. All you can hope is that no-one notices.

One small qualification on the USA: the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. It seems that, for as long as there's a Disney Corporation, copyright will be extended indefinitely.

Edited by pigsty

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It would seem that far from being an bottom, the law is in fact a big-eared mouse! :hmmm:

It does make you wonder how difficult copyright is to enforce in this digital age... it hurts my brain, so I'm going to stop now :owww:

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So presumably it is best to source your photos from canada or australia then.



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hi Mike,

..my guess is, if you've got a big enough wallet (pocket book) you can enforce just about anything copyright related. As above, it all depends who's looking

Edited by FalkeEins

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There is another factor, that even if a photo is out of copyright, if you publish it (in a book for example) then that presentation becomes copyright. Don't know if there is any vcase law on publishing on the web.....

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THis is most interesting - especially on crown copyright. Many thanks.

Yet another factor, if perhaps more of practical relevance rather than legal, is that copyright isn't the entire story: there are also access etc fees. A museum, for instance, can charge you for providing access in terms of supplying a high-res copy of a photograph even if this is out of copyright, especially if work has to be done to scan an image. This is just like it will charge for providing a photograph of the kind of object that has no copyright whatever, such as a waterbottle (unless it is a Willys © jeep, I suppose) (though it will then also hold copyright in the new photo itself, unless there is legitimate copyright in the original subject of the photo, such as a painting, in which case the original work of art trumps the copy photographer's copyright - or so I understand it ....).

Of course, getting the image to a decent quality for publication will mean almost certainly that you have to sign an agreement, which will be on their terms. So good to know where else to look ...

While on that last point, it is also always worth looking at www.scran.ac.uk if searching for Scottish-related subjects - for instance tanks training in Scotland during WW2 (though why it has a pic of a WW1 tank in a Rotherham, Yorkshire, park escapes me, unless it's near enough to Doncaster to be in the bit that is feudally Scotland still). You have to pay in theory to see high resolution images but most folk in Scotland should be able to get free access through their school, college, or local council library card - even online (I just type in my council library number and off I go). Publication, inclouding on the web, is another matter, but it depends what you are doing. I've been able to publish for free in my academic work.

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The United States is a veritable nightmare regarding Copyright unless it was a Photograph captured by a US Federal Government employee or Federal Government entity unless specifically made Public Domain by the creator of the photograph.

How so? The US Government does not (and never has) copyright photographic images. Otherwise the copyright is owned by the person who took the photo, or by the entity (corporate, or otherwise) that has rights to it. That's about as simple as it gets. I shoot it, I own it. That's the same as anywhere else as far as I'm aware.

And for the record, lots of people in the US (and elsewhere) try to copyright official US Government images, the rights to which they do not own. You'll find loads of ©'s attached to images that are in fact in the public domain.


Edited by Jennings Heilig

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In the case of a forum like this, I would say 'fair use' applies.


Fair use is a limitation and exception to the exclusive right granted by copyright law to the author of a creative work. In United States copyright law, fair use is a doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. Examples of fair use include commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship. It provides for the legal, unlicensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author's work under a four-factor balancing test. The term fair use originated in the United States. A similar principle, fair dealing, exists in some other common law jurisdictions. Civil law jurisdictions have other limitations and exceptions to copyright.

In the forums case

Examples of fair use include commentary, research, teaching, and scholarship.
photos are posted for these reasons, this a serious discussion community, don't forget there are members here who have written the book! Chris Thomas and Jim Maas spring to mind but I know there are more, plus Edgar Broks who so generously post his researches here.

Personally I work on posting images to illustrate points in threads on a 'fair use' basis, out of the four, these two are of particular relevance.

The first factor is regarding whether the use in question helps fulfill the intention of copyright law to stimulate creativity for the enrichment of the general public, or whether it aims to only "supersede the objects" of the original for reasons of personal profit. To justify the use as fair, one must demonstrate how it either advances knowledge or the progress of the arts through the addition of something new. A key consideration is the extent to which the use is interpreted as transformative, as opposed to merely derivative.

You post a photo, to make a secific point about markings, or equipment, that's advancing knowledge. not just going 'here's a nice photo'


The fourth factor measures the effect that the allegedly infringing use has had on the copyright owner's ability to exploit his or her original work. The court not only investigates whether the defendant's specific use of the work has significantly harmed the copyright owner's market, but also whether such uses in general, if widespread, would harm the potential market of the original. The burden of proof here rests not on the defendant for commercial uses, but on the copyright owner for noncommercial uses.

I'm aware 'fair use' is a US concept, but in the age of the internet we run into the problem of if you like 'information' borders.

The amount I have learned from various forums the in the past few years is quite amazing, and much from posted images.

In short, if you have a serious point that needs illustrating for commentary, research, teaching, and scholarship , post the image in light of the above. If someone complains, remove it.



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Really interresting.

I have a small collection of various aircrafts and had a talk with Julien about the possibility to post some of them.( I made a post about some Meteor pics from Gloster and Russell Adams )

My next post will be about the Spiteful and Seafang pics I have.

I am know clearer with your explainations.

Many thanks



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