How do I track down a copyright holder?

As a surprise for my mother I want to scan my BarMitzvah album which after 20 years is falling apart. The pages are broken from the binder and is very rarely looked at.

The hired photographer is no longer in business as far as I can tell. I’ve tried calling the phone number that is on the inside page and it is a residence. He had worked out of his house and it has changed owners twice.

I’ve done a google search on the business name in New Jersey and it has also come up blank.

I’m aware that the photographer owns the copyright on the pictures and I need his permission to scan them. I also know nothing physically prevents me from putting the pages in my scanner and scanning them but I do want to do it the legal way.

Unfortunately the US does not have any orphan copyright status like say Canada. This situation is not uncommon. I think you have have done all you honestly can and could in good conscience scan the works. Yes technically you are breaking copyright, but you are placed in an unfair position by silly laws. It is also afaik a civil rather than criminal breach
some info here

I will also add you must be the most honest person on the internet
//goes back to downloading the collected musical works of mankind

If, as you say, the photographer was hired by your family, then his photographs are almost certainly “works for hire.” This means that you own the copyright to them, not him.

IANAL, but in my somewhat informed opinion, the only way this wouldn’t be the case would be if the person who hired him signed a contract in which copyright was explicitly transferred to the photographer. But I think that’s relatively unlikely. And since your planned use is entirely private and non-commercial, and you’ve made reasonable efforts to track him down, chances are that even if such a contract ever existed, he’s highly unlikely to find out that you’ve broken its terms.

I say go ahead and scan in good conscience.

This is most likely not true. Nearly every contract with a professional photographer retains the copyright to the photog, not the event holder. It is changing, but these are typically not “works for hire”. If the photog was an employee of a company and this was a company event the situation would be as you describe. But not a photog hired for a Bar Mitzvah.


Most photographer’s in the USA have a copyright on the pictures. They put an anticopy scheme into the prints and you will likely see black blotches in a scan that is not visible on the photos. Without the untouched negative, even the original photographer couldn’t help you. Try a photo of the photo after you get permission of course.

Okay, I stand corrected. This is what I get for posting from memory late at night. I should have Googled first. Sorry about that.

But I still say for something so relatively trivial (in the whole scope of things, if not to you and your family, specifically), you’ve done everything a reasonable person can do, and should go ahead and scan the pictures. If the photographer or his heirs ever turn up, you can come to some arrangement for a reprinting payment. In these circumstances, I don’t think a regard for copyright laws should prevent a family from preserving its history.

ETA: Harmonious Discord: these pictures are 20 years old. I doubt they have anti-copying measures.

I doubt this is true on 40 year old prints.

Well I’ve started scanning them and the only problem is the page is too big for my scanner so I’m doing each page twice with overlap and am seeking out stitching software to combine the photos.

So far the ones I’ve scanned have no blotches except where the pages are damaged. I would take the pictures out of the pages but the person who assembled the book glued down the edging.

I’m not going to worry about tracking down the rights holder any more. If it becomes an issue I’ll tackle it then. Thanks for the advise though

Under the Copyright Act of 1976, from January 1, 1978, to March 1, 1989, the copyright owner was required to place a proper copyright notice on copies of his work.* If he did not, he was given 5 years to remedy that omission. If he did not remedy the omission, the work fell into the public domain.

Do the prints the photographer made bear proper copyright notices?

U.S. Copyright Office circular #3, Copyright Notice.

  • “©” or “Copyright”, the year of first publication of the work, and the name of the copyright holder.

Walloon thank you very much. Since the photos in question were taken in 1987 and there are no Copyright markings visible on the pictures or on the album the content should be PD then.