Can You Legally Use Old Advertisements In Digital Ephemera You Sell?

digital ephemera

A reader question prompted this blog post.  They reached out to ask about using images pulled from vintage 1970’s items to create digital ephemera to sell.  If you are a junk journal creator, you’ll already know that digital ephemera is a popular sales item, especially on sites like Etsy. I even have some collections that I’ve created for sale there, so I found this question very relevant for the crafting community.

First of all, a disclaimer.  I am not a copyright or trademark attorney and do not claim to be an expert on copyright or trademark law.  The information below is just what I’ve found in my own quest to find images that I felt could be legally used for digital ephemera.  Please do your own research as well or even contact an attorney if you are concerned about the possibility of copyright infringement.

Public Domain

I use images in my collections that have aged into what is called Public Domain, meaning they are free to use with no restrictions.  Be aware that you can’t copyright public domain images, however you can copyright your collections or creations created with them. As of 2021, items published in 1925 or before have aged into public domain. 

Advertisements

When it comes to advertisements in magazines and newspapers, anything published before 1978 should be fine to use as long as it doesn’t show a copyright notice.  If it was published in a magazine or newspaper between 1978 and March of 1989 might be ok to use if a copyright wasn’t filed within 5 years of publication.  Of course, be aware that some images and slogans may be trademarked, so you should always check for both copyright and trademarks before using anything.  You could also keep in mind that even items that were filed may now be usable if the company that did so is no longer in business. It’s highly unlikely a defunct  company is going to sue you over use of an advertisement that you’re using in a digital ephemera product.

Manuals

What about images you might find in manuals, such as auto manuals?  I’ve never dealt with them, but my first suggestion would be that you search for information about copyright in the manual itself.  If you can’t find any, don’t assume.  Try contacting the business the manual was created by and ask.  In some cases, the company may be just fine with you using the images in digital ephemera. It’s always best to ask.

There are plenty of wonderful images to create digital ephemera with that reside in the public domain. If the ones you want to use aren’t, be sure to do your homework. Make sure you’re not infringing on someone else’s copyright or trademark with your digital ephemera.

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