I would like to use an old photo/postcard (example 1, example 2) for a non-commercial poster. The poster is for a school assignment. The photo would illustrate a map and text about the history of the Flying Bluenose. The copyright of the original photo has already expired.

However, since someone else has scanned the photo, do I require explicitly permission from the "file owner" beside citing the source?

I am residing in Canada.

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    Hi Thomas, welcome to Writing.SE. I'm happy you liked my answer. I will ask you though to wait at least a full day or two before accepting any answer as best. Accepting too early discourages people from answering and of course your goal is to get as many helpful answers as possible. If you still like mine best in a couple of days, please go ahead and click that checkmark.
    – Cyn
    Mar 21, 2019 at 5:27
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about writing
    – NofP
    Mar 22, 2019 at 8:53
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    I disagree. This question is about writing. We don't send questions about the legality of using quotes/etc to legal, so that part is definitely okay here. And we have a brand-new spanking tag for artwork which is specifically for illustrations that accompany writing (we had an old tag that covered it, the new tag just clarifies). The question here is about legal issues with illustrating a written piece of work. Completely on topic for Writing.SE.
    – Cyn
    Mar 22, 2019 at 16:05
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    @Cyn but where does it say that this question is about "illustrations that accompany writing"? I don't see anything about the 'writing' part. Mar 22, 2019 at 16:12
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    @Galastel I assumed it based on context. If the assignment is entirely graphic (including a few words does not make it non-graphic), then it's off topic because of that. That being said, it is a question and answers that are potentially very useful to writers, even if it turns out I was wrong and the OP did not mean a writing assignment.
    – Cyn
    Mar 22, 2019 at 16:15

3 Answers 3


Follow the rules set out on the page you want to copy from.

The railway schedule is part of the Bob MacIntosh Collection.

Bob has given the DARDPI wiki permission to use his image collection and for individuals to enjoy them for their own personal study of the D.A.R. Bob MacIntosh reserves all rights on his image collection for any commercial use and forbids the use of these images on any other site without his express permission.

The train picture comes from a book, Canadian Pacific's Dominion Atlantic Railway, Vol 2.

Both volumes are 26 pages inside. Each 8 1/2 x 11 page is a full sized photograph with description. Nearly every photo is the first time in print. Excellent photos and excellent details on the descriptions.

You can't just say "oh the copyright has expired" because you don't know if that's true. Items do pass into the public domain but not necessarily in straight-forward ways. For example the train schedule itself is almost certainly public domain (and probably was never copyrighted) but the scan or photo of it belongs to the person who took it. Which was a lot more recently (and might be Bob MacIntosh). Just like a picture of an old public building belongs to the person who took it.

The train picture is from the 1920's but the one on the site belongs to Ken McIlvoy. If you could get another original, you'd maybe be fine. In the US, anything from 1923 or earlier, that otherwise would have qualified for public domain, is now in the public domain. For other works, it can be a lot more complicated. In Canada, works enter public domain 50 years after the death of the artist/writer. I would not assume that the photographer died before 1969, or that the copyright has lapsed for any other reason.

But what you want to use is a photo of that photo. Here's what Canadian law has to say about that:

Many websites provide access to digital reproductions of works that are in the Public Domain. For instance, the websites of museums and art galleries often include online collections of images, and many of these images depict manuscripts, paintings, sculptures, and other creative works that are in the Public Domain.

Although the act of digitizing a Public Domain work is not itself sufficient to create a new, copyrighted version of the original work, it is important to exercise caution when using such digital reproductions, as they are often made available subject to terms and conditions in legally enforceable license agreements.

More specifically, if a website’s terms of use specifically restrict the ways in which you can use the website’s content, then these restrictions would prevail over your right to use that content in accordance with the Copyright Act. For example, if a museum’s website includes an image of a painting that is in the Public Domain, but the website’s terms of use prohibit you from copying or distributing the image, then you must abide by this restriction.

In other words, follow the rules of the page you got it from. If you aren't sure, ask.

  • Thank you. I refrain from using those photo and timetable due to a lack of contact information and the due date of my assignment.
    – Thomas
    Mar 21, 2019 at 22:38

Contacting a legal professional familiar with Canadian copyright law is strongly advised - The act of scanning a work frequently establishes a new copyright of that scan, and is not something easily decided by a quick paragraph from a random website. So while you may scan a public domain document and freely use it as you wish, you often can't download someone else's scan of the same document.

Also, keep in mind the dates involved! You would want to be very careful on looking into the image in question and the actual legal standing of copyright on material from that era.

  • Canadian copyright is currently established as 50 years After The Death Of the Creator. The 20's may be covered by a different law that would allow an earlier expiry on the copyright, but you would have to be sure the photographer passed away before the 60s to safely assume the image has lapsed into public domain here.

And you would also have to check if the rights were defined by Canadian law - If the image was actually produced by someone from another country, they potentially took the rights back to that country when they left and may be respected under copyright treaty.

All that said, contacting the hosts to track down any copyright holder and asking permission is likely your best bet in any case, just do your best to confirm that whoever actually holds the rights is giving you permission - Holding the photo isn't the same as the copyright.


That photograph is very clean for such a vintage photo. I used photoshop to clean up my grandparents’ wedding photo and ended up with a result with the same clarity. Ninety two years dropped away and details emerged that had seemed to have been lost.

I would suggest contacting the person who scanned it. If they did clean it up, that is quite the task and deserves the respect of an inquiry. Just ask their permission.

It says that it is described in a book, so it has been used before.

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