Question: Maps and Copyright?

Recently I’ve received several questions relating copyright and reproducing other maps, so I thought I’d deal with them all at once. The first question deals with reproducing maps that may or may not be in the public domain; the second deals with using reproductions of old maps that themselves are out of copyright; the question is the copyright status of the reproductions.

First, Drew writes:

I’m interested in reproducing the Tokyo subway map on a product that I will be selling online. Things like t-shirts, postcards, etc. I want to use the official Tokyo Metro version from their website. I can’t find any contact info for them though. Do you know anything about the ability to reproduce this map? Is it in the public domain? If I use it without an offical answer would they just tell me to stop if they didn’t want it used, or would I face a copyright lawsuit? Thanks in advance for any help and I look forward to your reply.

The maker of subway maps for the iPod ran into trouble for distributing iPod-friendly digital versions of official subway maps, and he wasn’t even asking for money. The answer to your question will depend on Japanese copyright law, about which I know nothing. But considering that people run into trouble when they aren’t making money from it, there is probably considerable risk involved if you try to sell tchotchkes based on official maps. You really ought to try to get a hold of them. Which, I admit, is not much help; can anyone add to this?

Next, Cynthia writes:

1. Are all (if any) antique maps copyrighted? And if so, could you tell me how to go about gathering information about particular maps?
2. I am interested in one map in particular that I would like to use as wallpaper on my website. I don’t know the name of it but I could send you a link to it or a jpeg of it. It is in Atlas Maior by Peter Van der Krogt, so I suspect that it is not entirely public domain but would like to find out for sure before giving up. The web in general and antique maps (always loved them, am just beginning to learn about them) are both pretty new to me so any guidance would be greatly appreciated! I would love info on how to go about checking copyrights on maps as I would much prefer not to get in trouble! I am more than happy to do the research, I just have not had luck yet in discovering where to even look … I thank you in advance!

Another question I received last month states the point more succinctly:

Regarding the copyrights of old and antique maps prior to the 1923 convention: Do exact scans of an original print have any actual copyright weight?

So, for example, maps from Blaeu’s Atlas Maior may be out of copyright, but is Van der Krogt’s edition of it (see previous entry) protected? Or, to take another example, is a digital image of an antique on a library web site copy-protected? I suspect it is, and that scanning the book rather than the original, or using someone else’s scan, may be problematic, but I could be wrong. Can anyone offer any insight here?

See previous entry: Copyright Traps.