Using old photographs in historical hubs

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  1. ruthwalker profile image60
    ruthwalkerposted 9 years ago

    Hi there, joined HP a little while ago but only just got round to writing my first hub. It is going to be an historical piece but seem to be spending most of my time trying to find who owns copyright to the images I would like to use, which are all dated between 1920's and 1950's, and then trying to find contact details, then contacting them and waiting for permission to use them. There aren't many old pics of this place, which makes it even more difficult, have contacted a couple of people who I think may have the copyright for the images but have not heard back from them yet. Is all very frustrating, the images are going to be an important part of hub and it's not going to be the same without them, so not sure what I will do if I don't hear back from the people I have contacted, or don't get permission to use them sad

    Just wondered if other people have had these kind of difficulties and if anyone has any tips for dealing with issues like this?



    1. Tolovaj profile image84
      Tolovajposted 9 years agoin reply to this

      I use only public domain pictures (mostly illustrations), first published before 1923 (USA copyright law) AND authors being dead for 70 years (EU law). The problem is, older stuff is often not credited at all, so I have to dig through old archives of companies which don't exist anymore ... Sometimes I spend full week to find enough graphic material. It can be frustrating indeed.

      I don't know about your specific case, but Wikimedia Commons have a lot of useful photos with CC 2.0 or CC 3. 0 license. Another option is to find somebody (friend, relative), who owns photos, useful for you, and is willing to help you. In this case hub should be written only after you already have photos and permissions.

      I hope this is useful to you.

    2. MelissaBarrett profile image58
      MelissaBarrettposted 9 years agoin reply to this

      I've had luck with other endeavors (I don't do a lot of historical hubs) by finding books on the subject (googlebooks, Project Gutenberg)written pre-1923 and lifting the images from them. I still cite at least the book it was published in but usually the book will give me more information than that on the photographer/illustrator.

    3. Phyllis Doyle profile image93
      Phyllis Doyleposted 9 years agoin reply to this

      I write a lot of historical articles. The first place I go to for public domain or creative commons images is Wikipedia, because they have all the details on every image they use and most of them are in the public domain. I always cite the source by proper attributes if it is creative commons, or just enter 'Wikipedia Public Domain' in the source field.

      Have you searched on Wikipedia for the place you want to write about? In your search engine enter the name of the place, wikipedia. Hopefully you will find some information or images there.

      Other sites you can find images are:

      Bing Images - track the image to the source to make sure it is free to use

      pixaby public domain pictures

      Flickr Photo Sharing -  track the image to the source to make sure it is free to use

      In all cases, make sure the image is either Public Domain or Creative Commons and also make sure to attribute the images.  Good luck in your search.

    4. Barbara Kay profile image74
      Barbara Kayposted 9 years agoin reply to this

      Check the Library of Congress site. They have many historical photos that are in the public domain.

    5. Mary McShane profile image81
      Mary McShaneposted 9 years agoin reply to this

      I like Shorpey's website. You have to create an account, but all they ask for is a screen name you want to use and your email address. It is done in less than 10 seconds. 

      There are a ton of old photos with sources listed.  There is a digital use form to fill out if you want to use a photo so you can ask permission. There is a form if you want to purchase too, but I only have completed the 'use' form. I don't like to pay for use, so I always look for free stuff.  I put spaces between this link so the live link doesn't post here, so to view their website, put this link in your browser and then close up the spaces.

      www.    shorpy.    com 
      click around to view the photos before you decide to create an account.  Lots of categories and some comments give links to even more photos. So don't overlook the comments, there are links to gems in there too.

      the permission to use form
      http://  www.    shorpy.   com/    digital-images

      On Pinterest, you will find many old photographs (vintage categories) and most have attribution in the link source. 
      www.   pinterest.   com   
      Search vintage photographs or the keyword of the photo you are looking for (examples: Kennedy Assassination, Lincoln Assassination, Hindenburg, Holocaust)  The return results may surprise you.

      Good luck on your project smile

    6. profile image0
      Earl Noah Bernsbyposted 9 years agoin reply to this

      Don't forget the Learning Center Guide! (

      Use caution, though.  I recently learned (to my chagrin) that not all photos have proper licensing information on sites such as Flickr and Wikimedia Commons — even if a photo is designated as Creative Commons or Public Domain!  As Marisa Wright mentioned in another thread, apparently some folks on Flickr don't fully understand the implications of those licenses, and just post photos from family trips, museum outings, etc., with an improper attribution.  Furthermore, even Wikimedia Commons licenses can be erroneous, as they have an all volunteer staff who may not understand the difference either.

      Here's a good Hub explaining the ins and outs of using Flickr for noobs: … -Your-Hubs

      One other thing I learned recently that really surprised me: Did you know that photos of famous paintings and other artwork from artists long dead may also still be under copyright?  As Matt from the HP team recently informed me: private owners, museums, or even corporations may hold the rights to images depicting famous paintings from the likes of Degas, Monet, and Van Gogh, whose works predate 1923 (the default Public Domain date in the U.S.)!  I assumed that images of famous museum pieces simply belonged to the public, for everyone to enjoy, with no restriction — not so.

      In any case, good luck!  I hope this helps you avoid some of the pitfalls that I, and others, have stumbled through!  You will find that many people around HP are eager to help a newcomer who is earnest about learning the ropes.  Occasionally you encounter someone who is unreasonable, unprofessional, and/or just plain nasty, but I suppose that is unavoidable with a large community such as this.  In any case, it all comes out in the wash!  Welcome to HubPages, and I look forward to reading your work! wink

      1. ruthwalker profile image60
        ruthwalkerposted 9 years agoin reply to this

        Hi guys, thanks for the great suggestions and advice

        @Mary McShane, thankyou for the Shorpy link, I hadn't heard of that site before, have had a look at it and it looks like there's a lot of great stuff on there.  Never thought of using Pinterest for images, will have to check that out, thankyou smile

        @Earl Noah Bernsby  I didn't know that pics on Wikimedia and Flickr might not have proper licensing info, hm, this properly using images thing gets more complicated all the time lol  Didn't know that old paintings might still be under copyright either, although I kind of wondered about that when I was trying to find old pics, wondering whether the copyright for the image may have passed on to next of kin or something like that, it's a bit of a minefield.  Anyway, thankyou for the links and advice and welcome smile

        1. Mary McShane profile image81
          Mary McShaneposted 9 years agoin reply to this

          I  wrote a hub about Shorpy because of this forum question. It is titled My New Finds: Websites for Old Photographs - Mary McShane.  I wanted to  tell you that it has links to 2 more sites that might help you in your project.

          1. ruthwalker profile image60
            ruthwalkerposted 9 years agoin reply to this

            Hi Mary, thanks for letting me know, I'll check it out smile

        2. Writer Fox profile image33
          Writer Foxposted 9 years agoin reply to this

          I'm sorry that you have been given inaccurate information by Earl. You can certainly use any photograph of a painting if the painting is in the Public Domain.  It doesn't matter who took the photo – the most famous photographer in the world or the museum where it is displayed. Feel free to use any photo of the paintings of Degas, Monet or Van Gogh. And you don't have to cite the source of such a photograph.

  2. psycheskinner profile image80
    psycheskinnerposted 9 years ago

    In most cases pre 1923 will be in the public domain.  In all other cases you need to assume they are under copyright.

  3. ruthwalker profile image60
    ruthwalkerposted 9 years ago

    Hi, thankyou for replies.

    @Tolovaj yes it is very frustrating, and that's the thing with a lot of old pictures, the author of picture isn't quoted so you don't know who owns copyright, feel a bit like running around in circles trying to pin down who owns it then trying to get their permission hmm

    I have another related question, I have bought an old postcard which has image of place I am writing about, I was just going to take a photo of it then use that, will that be ok?
    I am thinking that that is probably not ok either as although I will own copyright to picture I take I still don't own copyright for the original image.


    Am thinking that I'll either just have to publish hub without the images I'm after, which I don't really want to do, or if I'm still around in 20 years or whatever, publish it then when the images will be in public domain lol

    1. Phyllis Doyle profile image93
      Phyllis Doyleposted 9 years agoin reply to this

      Is it possible you can find images that relate to your subject? For example, if I write an article about a haunted house I once visited, but do not have  photo of it and cannot find one online, I may use some ghostly images or an image of a moonlit night showing shadows of trees, or a spooky looking pathway in a yard or woods, etc.

      1. Alastar Packer profile image73
        Alastar Packerposted 9 years agoin reply to this

        There you go, Phyllis - think outside the box for pics you can't find, absolutely. However relevant, another way I found was by any friends or acquaintances who can draw decently. Occasionally one will do a sketch for a little folding m or even sans. They're different and unique for sure.

        1. Phyllis Doyle profile image93
          Phyllis Doyleposted 9 years agoin reply to this

          You know, Alastar, I forget about drawing images.  This is always a good way to make articles more unique with that special touch. I think I will venture into this and give it a try. I have a good set of drawing pencils and have been wanting to get the oil based pencil set.

          ruthwalker, I am getting very curious about your story. Is it possible you can draw some images to go with it?

          1. ruthwalker profile image60
            ruthwalkerposted 9 years agoin reply to this

            I wish I could Phyllis but don't think my drawing skills are up to that, I could maybe manage a half way decent stick figure lol but anything more complicated probably not.  It's a really nice idea though.

    2. Tolovaj profile image84
      Tolovajposted 9 years agoin reply to this

      About old card and photo ... You are in gray area. If the card is published before 1923 and author is dead for 70 years, there is no problem. If there is no copyright notice, you should find the date of first publication (which can be very hard). If I don't have data, I don't touch it.
      About waiting until things fall in Public Domain ... Unfortunately copyright laws changed and became very complicated with Disney's fear about Mickey Mouse falling in Public Domain. It is not a coincidence 1923 is the magic number - this is when Mickey Mouse was introduced to the public. You can read more about that on internet. In short: since the new laws from Clinton's era nothing falls in Public Domain by default and some things from Public Domain even moved under copyright again.
      This is one of the main reasons I write mostly about several hundred years old things ...

  4. psycheskinner profile image80
    psycheskinnerposted 9 years ago

    A faithful copy (e.g. photo) of a creative work is considered a "derivative work" still under the same copyright.

  5. livewithrichard profile image74
    livewithrichardposted 9 years ago

    You might want to try using which is a reverse image search engine.  You can sometimes track an image to the original source and then go from there...

  6. Alastar Packer profile image73
    Alastar Packerposted 9 years ago

    Phyllis is right. A good many of those on wiki are free and clear for use so long as you properly attribute. Great place for historical pics for hubs. Now personally, I've found Flickr a bit tough for a monetized article, Photobucket a bit better. Hey Phyllis, appreciate the pixaby public domain lead, will check them out sometime.

    1. Phyllis Doyle profile image93
      Phyllis Doyleposted 9 years agoin reply to this

      Good ! I have used pixaby a few times but forgot about it till I just posted it here. I will have to go check it out also. Glad to be of help, Alastar. Flickr is a bit tough, but, ' flickr photo sharing' has more chances of finding free images. Just track to  the original source. I did not know that we can use Photobucket pics. I will check that out. Thanks!

    2. Phyllis Doyle profile image93
      Phyllis Doyleposted 9 years agoin reply to this

      PS: the photos you used on your Weebly article about Hunger Games District 12 are awesome !  Those are very historical -- but, all with written permission, yes?

  7. Alastar Packer profile image73
    Alastar Packerposted 9 years ago

    Hey, thank you for mentioning The  Hunger Games village story, Phyllis. It's a good chance to tell the absolute best way to get pics you don't take yourself. Think about photographer-type friends and ask them. Sometimes they come to you and offer or the photos are gifted outright. I always (if the photographer wants it or doesn't mind)  give them a little write up at the end of the article with any links they may have. The best kind of permission my friend!

    1. Phyllis Doyle profile image93
      Phyllis Doyleposted 9 years agoin reply to this

      Oh! sure, Alastar, you are most welcome. I wish I knew some good photographers. That is the best kind of permission usage. Glad you mentioned that.

  8. ruthwalker profile image60
    ruthwalkerposted 9 years ago

    Hi everyone, thankyou for all the advice and suggestions its been really helpful, am going to check out all of the sites that have been mentioned, I haven't heard of most of them.

    @ Phyllis Doyle  have checked on Wikipedia but only has more recent images, it's trying to get hold of the older ones that's being a bit of a pain.  I liked your idea of looking for similar looking images to use, am gonna keep that one in mind for future wink

    @ psycheskinner and Tolovaj  aye, I had funny feeling that the postcard thing wasn't going to be ok, glad it only cost me 3 euros lol  Slightly annoying thing about it is that the image, as well as a couple of others I was wanting to use were taken in 1928, so just 5 years shy of the copyright thing.  But like you mentioned Tolovaj it doesn't necessarily mean they will automatically go into public domain.  I didn't know that about Mick Mouse either, so all of this copyright thing is his fault then eh lol

    @ Alastar Packer  really liked your idea about getting someone to do a sketch if you can't find an image you can use, that would be nice and different eh  going to keep that one in mind for future too.

    Anyway, thanks for all the great suggestions, it's much appreciated smile

    Think I am going to have to do some swotting up on all this image Licenses and copyright thing, is a bit tricky.

  9. rebekahELLE profile image86
    rebekahELLEposted 9 years ago

    You can check out the Library of Congress catalog of digital photos.  I don't know what kind of historical photos you're looking for, but some cataloged are in the public domain.  The site has a page explaining copyright and other restrictions.

    For anyone interested, I read a NYT article this morning about Fair Use and the problems artists/photographers are facing.

    1. ruthwalker profile image60
      ruthwalkerposted 9 years agoin reply to this

      hi rebekahELLE, thankyou for the info and the links, the article you posted sounds interesting, will have a read of it later, thankyou for posting.

  10. psycheskinner profile image80
    psycheskinnerposted 9 years ago

    On one of my hubs about a health abnormality in deer I could find no copyright free pictures at all.  So I ended the hub with a request for people to send pictures that they would allow me too use, and three people responded with pictures!

    1. ruthwalker profile image60
      ruthwalkerposted 9 years agoin reply to this

      that's a great idea psycheskinner, wonder if I could do that for article I'm trying to write just now, may have more luck getting images that way perhaps.

      1. psycheskinner profile image80
        psycheskinnerposted 9 years agoin reply to this

        I was kind of surprised that it worked.  But you never know if you don't try.

  11. Uninvited Writer profile image83
    Uninvited Writerposted 9 years ago

    This is a good source for historical pictures that are copyright free:

    1. ruthwalker profile image60
      ruthwalkerposted 9 years agoin reply to this

      Hi Uninvited Writer, thankyou for the link, am going to check that out smile


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