Repeated comment with key correction
Well, since the topic has been raised, there's
another question I'm
I think in the U. S. publication is the key to copyright.
It is for now, but the US is changing to the life plus 70 regime for
works published after 1977, but in practical terms none of the works
affected will come into the public domain until Jan. 1, 2049
For sure, unpublished letters can be copyrighted when
even if they were written over a century ago.
This is no longer the case. If a work was not published before 2003 and
not registered for copyright before 1978 it goes into the public domain
on the January 1, following the 70th anniversary of the author's death.
For somebody who died in 1934 that means 11 days from now.
Millet's Le Semeur was painted in 1850, but when
was it "published?"
What constitutes publication for an oil painting which isn't
mass-produced? Is it published when it's exhibited in a gallery? If
so, then no problem (for most famous classic old paintings).
Millet died in 1875, so his work is now well into the public domain. It
was "published" when it was made generally known to the public. So,
yes, exhibiting it in a gallery would be a form of publication. A
publishing firm that prints a book and leaves all the copies locked up
in a warehouse for a number of years has not published it as long as
they all stay there.
Otherwise, do you need to research when the first
was published? Truly "slavish" color reproductions weren't cheap and
common (and used in textbooks and encyclopedias and magazines) until,
oh, maybe the 1930s.
Basing copyright expiry on the life of the author avoids the problem of
determining when it was published. An author's death date is far more
available piece of data.
So, if "published" means "printed"
then printed reproductions that are
old enough to be in the public domain would be hand-tinted engravings,
or chromolithographs (or whatever the Currier and Ives things are
called), or black-and-white photos. Which are significantly different
enough from a color photo of the same painting.
What would make such photographs copyrightable would be the level of
creativity involved. A simple point and click, or even mechanical film
selection, f-stop, shutter speed or focus adjustments to enhance the
representation of the picture would not be creative acts. Wilfully
putting a picture out of focus or distorting the colours (à la Andy
Warhol), or a risqué variation of the Mona Lisa in the style of Monty
Python could be creative enough to merit a new copyright.