I went searching for a photograph of Edgar Allan Poe. You would think it shouldn’t be difficult to find a photograph that can be legally shared online for a famous writer who has been dead since 1849. Even the most draconian copyright laws of today can’t possibly lock up the image of this historical figure.
Or can they?
Doing a Google search for just such an image that I might legally share online, I found this photograph:
The image is marked “copyright 1904 by C.T. Talman.”
Who is C.T. Talman? There is no Wikipedia page for C.T. Talman. A Google search returns barely two pages; the only real results direct the searcher back to this photograph. My best guess is that C.T. Talman was a man, since the preponderance of professional photographers of the day were most certainly male. So the Internet gives us very little information about this photographer whose only claim to immortality seems to be to have provided us with this priceless historical record: an image of the literary giant Edgar Allan Poe.
You have to admit, Edgar is looking pretty good in this portrait for a man who has been dead for fifty five years.
Well, it’s Poe, right? He was the king of supernatural fiction after all.
All kidding aside, how could C.T. Talman have taken this picture?
The easy answer is that he didn’t.
Searching further, this very image was used as the biographical portrait for the Wikipedia article about Edgar Allan Poe, but the image is identified as the “1848 “Ultima Thule” daguerreotype of Poe.” Clearly the photograph was taken 55 years prior to the 1904 date inscribed on it by C.T. Talman.
The Wikipedia page doesn’t tell us anything about C.T.Talman on the File:Edgar Allan Poe 2 retouched and transparent bg.png page, but provides a link to the original upload of the image, which does:
A photograph of a daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe 1848, first published 1880.
Taken by W.S. Hartshorn, Providence, Rhode Island, on November 9th, 1848
The daguerreotype was made by W.S. Hartshorn and then re-photographed (copied) by C.T. Talman in 1904.
When W.S. Hartshorn made this Poe daguerreotype, U.S. copyright law did not extend to photography. Photography didn’t come under copyright until 1882 when photographer Napoleon Sarony sued the company that used one of his photographs of Oscar Wilde in an advertisement.
The Poe daguerreotype image was created and published before copyright extended to photographs, placing it in the public domain. At the time, American Copyright law required an act of registration for work to come under “copyright protection.” Yet when C.T. Talman later photographed the photograph – made a copy of this image, he affixed his own copyright on the image. Did this take it out of the public domain?
C.T. Talman unquestionably did the world of culture a great service by preserving this important historical image. At the same time, anyone looking at the image sees a copyright declaration which makes it appear C.T. Talman was the author of the photograph, when in fact, what he did was the modern day equivalent of making a scan – or a copy. As I understand it, an exact reproduction of an existing art image does not allow a photographer to assert copyright.
If I were to scan someone else’s image, and then affix my own copyright declaration, I would be guilty of copyright infringement. Back then, the only reason C.T. Talman would have made his copy of W.S. Hartshorn’s daguerreotype, was so that he could then sell the copies. This is what we know today as bootlegging, or piracy. By asserting copyright, C.T. Talman prevented others from doing so. Was this fraud? Bootlegging? Or plagiarism?
Because the worst is that by copying and then defacing this photograph with his own spurious copyright claim, C.T. Talman has secured a bit of immortality by garnering credit that should have gone to the actual photographer, W.S. Hartshorn. Most people looking at the image will see C.T. Talman’s name, and think that he was the photographer.
For myself, I am thankful that The Dark Clown shared this photograph online, because it is the only image of Edgar Allen Poe “labeled for reuse” that Google could find.
What is ironic, is that a tiny thumbnail of this image is stored in the University of Minesota’s Digital Content Library marked “Copyright: Distribution of this material is not authorized.” I would expect an educational institution to make an effort to properly attribute works in the public domain.
the worst thing
This strikes me as yet another example of copyright harming creators.
This image of Edgar Allan Poe was photographed by W.S. Hartshorn and is unquestionably in the public domain.
Thanks to the comments, I’ve learned some new things, and will be revisiting this issue with a new blog article in Early September 2012.
One biggie shared by Terry Alphonse W.S.Hartshorn was actually Samuel Welds Hartshorn (1802 – 1885).
Those of us who can’t afford a surviving 1st Edition of Poe’s 1827 poem Tamerlane can read it online here.