Under the old law the term was the life of the author and seven years after. The new law (less favourable to photographers than to other artists and authors) gives fifty years from the making of the original negative. Several steps go to the making of a negative, and the first step, the exposure of the plate, may be substantially earlier than its completion, ready for printing. The statute does not distinguish, and the photographer on his way to the law courts to protect his right should probably assume that his copyright will have expired fifty years after the moment when the plate was exposed. The new act affects old copyrights. It extends the term of a photograph's copyright, provided that copyright still existed on 1st July, 1912. If the photographer died on or before 30th June, 1905, his copyright had gone before the new act came into force, but, if he died after 30th June, 1905, the copyright was subsisting. In that event the copyright is extended, as though the new act had been in force when the photograph was taken, and lasts for fifty years from the making of the negative.
As to unpublished photographs there is no limit to the term of protection. The old common law right, abolished by a section, but restored by a footnote to a schedule of the act, enables the owner to prevent publication by any one, so long as the author does not " publish " the photograph himself.
Registration and Assignment.
The Act of 1862 required registration at Stationers' Hall as a condition of protection. Only those piracies which occurred after registration involved liability to penalties, and the failure to comply with the strict terms of the law defeated some " meritorious " actions. But the subject is now unimportant, for all registration is abolished by the new law. No registration is necessary to establish the photographer's right to sue ; and, indeed, he is to be presumed to be the author of the copyright, so that he need not furnish evidence on that point, unless the defendant challenges his title.
All assignments of copyright must be in writing, signed by the assignor ; so must be licences to reproduce copyright work. Although the copyright lasts for fifty years the author cannot dispose of it for a term of more than twenty-five years after his death. After that time, in spite of any such assignments, it reverts to his executors or administrators. Thus does the legislature preserve the rights of our descendants in spite of our recklessness and heedlessness and save for them the financial benefits of the works by which we immortalize ourselves. But the author may by will dispose of these profits and cut off wife and children without a copyright to bless themselves with.