Copyright Law for Auctioned Print Blocks

Does anyone know the Copyright law for purchasing print blocks that were auctioned and using them to print cards to sell? Whether generic stationery and cards, or wedding invites. I am not referring to images that you see in clip art books because I already understand the law for them. I don’t quite understand how it works if I have blocks that have already been created/illustrated.

If I do have to receive approval, how do I go about doing so?

Any help would be SO appreciated for a “newbie”.


Log in to reply   3 replies so far

While not purporting to be an expert on Copyright Law, I would suggest that the same regulations apply to any image. If it is within the period of copyright protection, permission is required before publication. The process is made more difficult because you may not know the date of publication or the artist who produced the work as you might if dealing with a reproduction from a published copy.

Purchasing a production tool like a photoengraving does not necessarily give one the right to reproduce the image.

Updated. My copyright background is in music, so like jhenry, I don’t know much, but let me give this a try. I would like to point you towards circular 15a from the US copyright office:

This gives an overview, and shows a glimpse of the complexity of this issue. For an easier table explaining dates, try the Cornell University. If you bought a block, it was by definition published. So, ignore the unpublished section of the Cornell website page.:


The short answer is this:

Remember 1923 and 1977.

If it was cut before 1923, then you can use it however you want. However, if the contents of the block are trademarked (e.g. the Ford, CocaCola or GE logos), you can’t use it.

If the block was cut between 1923 and 1977 and doesn’t have a copyright notice/symbol on it, you should be able to use it, provided the work isn’t embodied in another form that is copyrighted. For instance, a decorative 1960 Olympics block with no copyright symbol is still protected because A) The 5 ring symbol is a trademark and B) that symbol appears on copyrighted posters and in books.

If it was cut after 1977, then it is undoubtedly copyrighted.

Anyway, good luck with your blocks. I hope I helped a little.

Blocks that have already been created/illustrated by (WHO) is the question?
As a “Newbie” how would you know if the block was not a copy from a old clip-art service company (out of business) or not?

Are they like clip-art in design or are they more like artist’s original work in a woodcut?

More info about the image would be helpful.

Example: “Eat at Joe’s” with a character depicting “Joe”!
Who drew Joe?
Was it from an art service company providing the art or was it created in-house then made into a block or cut?

At the time the blocks were made no issues of copyright where fully thought out (except in trade names or marks).
The industry didn’t look ahead 75 plus years when it came to the common everyday printer’s block or cuts.

With the protected or copyrighted images only their rightful owners thought ahead but not 75 years.

I work with original limited edition art pieces now and the arguement still goes on when someone buys an original at auction or when an artist dies and the original is in the hands of another owner. Can the new owner mass produce??

Everyone has an opinion and everyone wants a piece of the pie($).