Tracking Down Copyright Releases for Family Histories

When your photo collection is from 20 years ago, who owns the copyright? If you used said photos for the purpose of marketing yourself, are these images still in the public domain? If they are in the public domain, do you actually need to track down a copyright release statement?

Could I Use My Modeling Portraits?

Writing my memoir was easy compared to the worry I felt regarding the headshots I used during my quest for the crown. How would I track down men who may not be photographers any longer? If I couldn’t use photos in my book about pageants then what good was the project? Pageant books need photos!

Can you tell that I was a wee bit stressed out? My husband took the brunt of the stress missile. As much as I dislike current copyright law as it applies to modern photography, it is what it is. So, I set out trying to determine if I could track down and obtain copyright release forms.

Searching With Google

Google is our friend, is it not? Five photographers took the bulk of the professional photos in my collection. My mother snapped the off-stage photos and on stage photos where personal photography was allowed. Receiving the copyright from momma was a cinch. She’s deceased, and I own her photo collection. As far as I know, I’m set.

I made a list of the professional photographers and turned to Google to track them down.

One photographer was the mall studio known as Glamour Shots. Anyone alive in the US the early 90s knows of the mass-produced mall makeover portrait producers. Because it is a corporation today, Glamour Shots is easy to work with as they often field copyright release requests. The customer service rep was especially delighted that I wasn’t asking for a reprint from the original negatives for photos that are decades! Thanks, Glamour Shots for making things so easy.

The next photographer was my photographer favorite, ever! When I used his services, he worked in a partnership that used a company brand rather than his own name. That business decision greatly benefited me. When I contacted the company, I learned he no longer worked with the studio, but they owned the copyright to all the images produced under the business name. Score! The modeling focused photography studio was familiar with copyright release forms. They did request that I submit electronic versions of the image so they could complete the release form. Done.

After two successes, I was feeling pumped. But then I ran into my problem. Three additional men worked independently and were difficult to track down. Additionally, two photographers were affiliated with a local modeling agency that now no longer in existence. I needed help finding the photographers or would need to decide what to do about my photos.

Enlist a Private Eye

When Google runs out of assistance, sometimes you have to turn to professionals.

I enlisted the aid of a friend who dabbles in private investigation work. My sleuthing friend secured the contacts for two photographers. He even facilitated the conversation with one. Both photographers granted permission to use their pictures, with one specifically requesting I mention his name beside his work. Done!

Do You Have the Correct Name of the Photographer?

The fifth photographer remained a hard man to find. It turns out that I was spelling his name wrong! I finally found a paper with his correct spelling and my husband was able to find him online. We sent a copyright release request, and he gladly provided it as long as I gave the proper citation in my book. Done!

Tracking Down Copyright Releases for Recent Photos Takes Time

Although the process did take a few months, I had the necessary permission for each photo I had selected for my book. If I were to do it over again, I would start tracking down photographers earlier in my writing process. After exchanging a few emails, I learned I just needed to be willing to ask.

To see the photos the pageant photographers released their copyright for, order From Metal to Rhinestones: A Quest for the Crown.

From Metal to Rhinestones a Quest for the Crown

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Finding copyright releases for your photos to use in your memoir or family history projects.
Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

2 thoughts on “Tracking Down Copyright Releases for Family Histories

  1. What a great example for the rest of us! I think, for the most part, all we need to do is ask. But, we must find the people to ask! Thanks for sharing how it worked out for you.

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