Copyright Question (sorta)

Some years ago, I aquired a copy of the original Coca-Cola “I’d like to teach the world to sing” TV spot from 1971. It is on 16mm film and in a little box labeled with the name of the Ad agency (McCann Ericson). I think it came from a TV station.

Does this thing still technically belong to Coke or maybe to the Agency? Can I sell it? I no longer have a 16mm projectorand I’d like to put it on Ebay as it might be of interest to someone.

Maybe this should be in IMHO…

How did you “acquire” it?

If you purchased it, then you are the owner and can dispose of your property.

If it just “happened” to find itself in your pocket one day, then the situation is legally murkier. Copyright doesn’t enter into it, though.

Put it on eBay, at worst Coke or someone like that will complain and eBay will yank the auction and you’ll be out the listing fee.

I know of a guy who used to work at TV station and in the late 70s they were clearing old tapes to make room in storage and his boss told him to “toss the tapes.” But he kept them.

He ran into a few issues, because he said they were abandoned once he tossed them, but one of the station said, technically he didn’t throw them out, he took (aka stole) them.

So it can get murky for things like that.

Sounds similar to something that happened to my father. He was working at a radio station when JFK was assassinated. Somehow he ended up with the first news teletype printouts that came into the station. Not too long before he died in the 1990s, he sold what he had to a collector for a few hundred dollars. There weren’t any legal issues though, as so much time had passed and he had left that state long before. (The JFK assasination was just before we moved to Texas.) I’m not even sure if there was any indication which radio station it was.

(And no, I don’t think anyone knocked him off because of the sale.)

It’s not a copyright issue, because you’re not making a copy. Beyond that, I’m outside my area of expertise and can’t give you advice. I can’t imagine, though, why this wouldn’t be considered legally equivalent to any other piece of memorabilia.

It has the same status as any tangible item you want to sell. If you bought it or were given it as a gift, you can do what you want. If you found it, things get murkier – but it would be the real owner who has the claim to it (i.e., the person who had it last). That could be the TV station or the ad agency.

As a practical matter, it’s unlikely they’d bother contesting it.

I agree with everyone else. I would think of it like a book or DVD or VCR tape that I had bought. I can’t rip it and put it on the internet, but I can definitely resell it as long as it has proper provenance.

Perhaps what the OP is getting at is sometimes eBay will just yank auctions. VeRO (Verified Rights Owner), is a program used by eBay. Once you as the owner of certain rights are verified, they often make claims they have no right to claim. But eBay will not aruge, they just yank the auction anyway.

For example, if Coke saw this and participates in the VeRO program at eBay chances are if Coke filed a claim the auction would simply be pulled, no questions asked.

(I’m not saying this would happen just using it as an example)

You can sell a movie or a book or a CD or whatever on eBay, even if it is copyright. What you cannot do is make a copy or several and sell that. That is where copyright comes in.

The other issues as mentioned above relate to ownership. If you have title to it, or “found” it, then it’s yours. I presume beyond the name of the agency, there is no way to tell for example, which TV station it came from, no serial numbers etc. and no warning “property of…”; of course, even stuff stamped “property of…” may have been legitimately sold.

There’s a legal principle I read about once (not sure which jurisdictions it applies in) but if you purchase stolen goods in good faith, made obvious attempt hide them, etc. then after so many years they are legally yours. Check with a lawyer if you are worried. Obviously this does not apply in all cases.

Cecil covered a similar topic many years ago.

The confounding factor here is ownership of the physical media. I know in real estate there’s the 20-year rule and squatters’ rights, but what are the expectations of ownership if an advertising agency basically “gives away” a piece of work and makes no obvious attempt to reclaim it or showed no effort to ensure the work was properly disposed of? Can they then claim"we own it still"? Other than the material would involve the Coke brand name, what right of ownership does Coke have, unles the advertising agency gifted something they did not have to Coke?

Generally, under the first sale doctrine, you have a right to give away or sell a tangible item that you legally own.

There can sometimes be a complicating factor, though, if that copy was originally made under a contract the reserved ownership of the item and required that it be destroyed at the end of the contract period.

It works that way for paperback books, for example. When a bookstore acquires, say 100 copies, the publisher guarantees refunds for any unsold copies remaining at Time X. In accepting the refund, the bookstore is supposed to destroy the remaining copies. If those copies are instead sold, then that copy is no longer a legal copy.

Similar situations occur with, say, samples of compact discs sent to radio stations.

I just read about a case in Washington in which somebody was getting used copies of Autocad software and selling them on eBay. But under the original license that applied to the original transaction, the purchaser was supposed to destroy the copies after receiving updated software.

Despite record companies best efforts, the resale of promotional recordings is actually legal.

Your recollection of the Autocad case is a bit off. The “destroy the copies” stuff does appear in an article about the case, but that is not part of the ruling, just material thrown into by the writer of the article. The seller had legitimate, unused, originals.

This ruling is quite disturbing for several reasons. First, any company selling anything can now put a “license” on it and forbid reselling. Secondly, even if it only applied to computer software then any item containing computer code (TVs, dvd players, cars, washing machines, etc.) could be prevented from being resold.

Not really similar. Cecil replied to the question, “Can you legally publish a letter someone wrote to you?” (emphasis mine). The question wasn’t whether you could sell the original of that letter, which would be similar to this case.

The Cecil question (publishing the letter) is a copyright question. The OP of this thread is not.

ETA: Upon rereading Cecil’s column, I see he did address this question. The letter is equivalent to the physical film that longPath acquired, and Cecil confirms that he has the right to sell it.

Actually, I read the decision itself, not a report about it. And this is what it said:

I’ve been reading shrinkwrap/clickwrap licensing decisions for at least 10 years. I can’t remember any that decided otherwise. It’s been pretty solidly established that software developers don’t sell you copies of their software. And I’m pretty sure that any court will find that this principal applies to all media that comes in software form.

The dividing line between licensed software and hard goods that happen to contain software components seems to fall into the Lexmark cases.

That concept isn’t new. In the late 80s/early 90s, I owned a specialized software company. We were working hard to increase marketshare and hit on the idea of offering trade-ins on competitors’ software. We gave the customer money back on their purchase if they turned over to us the original install disks and dongle from any equivalent competing software. One of the competitors responded by making each of their new customers sign an agreement that they wouldn’t resell (or otherwise transfer ownership of) their software without express written permission of the software company, and they started charging for resale.

In other words, you could buy a copy of their software for $5,000. If you wanted to unload it several years later, they would forbid trading it in to another software company, and take a fee if you sold it to another end user – with the fee sometimes exceeding what you could sell it for.

Thanks acsenray for posting the info. The articles (especially the Slashdot-type blurbs) I read didn’t do the case details justice.

Indeed, the issue there seemed to mainly hinge on how legal were the copies in the first place (the issue the OP has to mainly be concerned with) rather than shrink-wrap licenses and such.