Reselling Tuck images on eBay

Is it permissible / legal to copy images from this website, to sell?

I’ve noticed a seller on ebay offering what appear to be copies of images from the TuckDB website (selling at over £5 + postage each!). I believe they are taken from this website because the wording of the descriptions also appears to be the same.
Is this legal?

Hey Lynne99,

Are they re-printing them? Do you have a link to the ebay item?

The legality of this usage is a gray area, because the images are over 100 years old, they are out of copyright. When people ask if they can use the images on our sites I say go for it.


I think they must be re-printing them, as they are offering the photos for sale and charging postage.

I’ve copied the URL of one page showing the seller’s ‘old photos’ of Barningham (18 photos, the same set as on TuckDB). I accessed it when I was signed in to ebay, don’t know if you would also need to sign in.

I’ve tried searching this seller’s ebay shop for other villages which are on the TuckDB website and found what appear to be the same sets of pictures, and wording of descriptions.

Well look at that! At first I thought they were selling the card and using our images, but they are selling an “old photo”.

Thanks for sending that, honestly, I don’t think that’s illegal or bad at all.

@amilling8 What do you think?

HI-I have seen lots of pages that take the images off of Tuck DB if that is what the question is?. Some for sale and some turned into various art and craft items or books with repros. My belief is that the copyright restrictions are long since over. If it helps people out. It is not much different than copying images and taking infomation off of ebay and adding to the database to promote postcard collecting. Shared use of information. Alison

The seller is being a bit devious. The photos are listed as “New”, and this is the description:

“You are bidding on a large historic photo, the photo is in excellent condition, it is sized 8x11 inches and has been professionally produced”

So while the images are historic, the prints are new.

Yeah I agree, I don’t think we should do anything

But at the same time, I was thinking of making a reprinting site that offered this service, and people are paying 8 pounds for it…

Thank you for discussing and replying.

As someone who’s made ample use of TuckDB images on my own Arbuckle Coffee Trade Cards website, I think perhaps I should weigh in on this discussion.

The expired copyrights for most of the original images that appear on the Tuck cards certainly do allow anyone who actually owns one of those cards to scan, photograph, or otherwise make use of the image on that card as they see fit. However, it doesn’t mean that those derived images are automatically free for anyone else to simply appropriate for further use without either express or blanket permission from the owner of that derived image. Whoever went to the trouble of creating that image from the original card holds intellectual property rights for that image and may or may not wish to grant permission for further use of it. So, for instance, if somebody wants to put the image from a vintage card on a T-shirt, they need to either scan or photograph the card themselves, or get permission to use an image from someone who’s already done so.

In the case of TuckDB, you have basically granted blanket permission for the use of the images from the site, which is why I’ve felt free to add them to my own site, with appropriate credit to TuckDB for each and every image used (such as this example), along with kudos to TuckDB on my Acknowledgements page. Over the years, I’ve been able to add a number of images (not Tuck) from other contributors or websites who have granted explicit or blanket permission for use of their images. I have also occasionally granted permission for others to use my images. It is never appropriate to simply lift an image from another website, (including an eBay auction) without explicit or blanket permission from the owner of that image. Just because an image is online somewhere, doesn’t mean it’s automatically free for all.

Voluntarily contributing images to TuckDB (which I’ve done here in this forum), or any other website, certainly would indicate that the contributor implicitly accepts the terms for further image use that the site has established.

Since TuckDB has essentially granted blanket permission for unrestricted use of its images, I would say that the eBay seller referenced in the original post in this thread is perfectly free to do what he’s doing, although, frankly, I’d say his approach and methods are deceptive, at best. And his feedback reflects that. However, it has to be up to eBay to deal with that, and it appears that eBay is probably raking in enough income from him that they’re not about to upset that gravy train.

So, there’s my two cents (USD) worth on the subject.


1 Like

Hey Jeff,

Thanks for weighing in. The seller in question is a bit deceptive. He markets photos as if they were the original.

I recently found this interesting article on the topic of copyright.

My understanding is that Tuck postcards (and most collectibles) are over 100 years old placing them in the public domain meaning the original artist has lost copyright on the artwork. After reading that article is seems that reproductions (scans) do not have have their own copyright, so they are also in the public domain. At the end of the article they write:

That makes sense to me – otherwise, you would be essentially recreating copyright every time you fed something into a scanner and edited out the dust, or fixed the odd typo. Every copy of Huckleberry Finn would be subject to a different copyright, because somebody had to enter the text into a typesetter, proofread it, etc.

I’m not a lawyer, but that’s my current understanding at the moment.


Thanks for your reply, Justin. I didn’t have time today to fully explore the article you referenced, or its numerous sub-links. What I did get to, however, is somewhat dismaying. That case where a court allowed Corel to get away with simply appropriating images from a library without so much as a “by your leave” seems particularly galling I would say that perhaps copyright law hasn’t yet caught up with the digital age. The distinctions that some seem to make between photographs and scans don’t seem relevant in the age of digital cameras, either.

Let me pose a hypothetical. Ansel Adams took many photographs of the scenic wonders of Yosemite National Park and elsewhere. He lugged around a big old camera and put a lot of time and effort into not only taking the photos, but in printing them as well. Certainly the subjects of his photos had no copyright protection, but the photographs themselves were considered original and, as far as I know, copyright protected. Anyone attempting to copy and distribute them without permission would be violating those copyrights. Now, let’s say that I go out to Yosemite tomorrow, take a picture of Half Dome with my dinky little digital camera, come home, plug the SD card into my printer and make 50 enlargements in a matter of minutes, which I then take out to sell on a street corner. I’ve put a modest amount of time but very little effort or expense into the project. Is my photo an original work, worthy of qualifying for copyright? Hundreds of thousands of people have probably taken a virtually identical photo. By the reasoning of those courts, it wouldn’t seem as if I’d met their threshold. So, then along comes someone who buys one of my photos on the street corner, goes home, scans it, prints a bunch of copies, and sets up on the next street corner freely selling those copies at a cheaper price. He’s put even less effort into it than I have, but he’s probably selling more copies. Bummer. Purely hypothetical, of course. :slightly_smiling_face:

A recurring theme of those cases and discussions seems to be that a person’s time and effort, and probably expense, doesn’t count for squat. I add “expense” to that equation simply because for somebody to scan or photograph an original item, they likely had to purchase it in the first place. A large number of the Arbuckle and related cards in my collection and on my website have been purchased on eBay or elsewhere online. For sellers to list an item on eBay, it’s essential for them to include one or more photos of the item. Sellers in a brick and mortar store don’t have that burden. So, the sole purpose of scanning or photographing an item is to sell the item pictured and earn income for the seller, not to put the image(s) in the public domain. Over the years, there have been many items on eBay that I have been interested in but failed to acquire, either because I was outbid or the seller had an unrealistic asking price in the first place. Quite a few of the latter are still up for sale, in fact. So, if I didn’t actually manage to acquire the item, does that still give me the right to simply grab the images from the listing and upload them to my website, or redistribute them in some other fashion? In my opinion, absolutely not! Unfortunately, it’s that kind of misappropriation of their images that leads many sellers to slap obvious “watermarks” on them, which sometimes degrade the images or inadvertently hide flaws in the items. Theoretically, eBay’s picture policy bans “Watermarks of any type, including those used for ownership attributions”, but many sellers do it anyway and it’s hard to blame them.

Anyway, to me, the bottom line is, if you actually own a card or other item which is no longer copyrighted (such as most of the Tuck cards), you can scan it, photograph it, decoupage it, whatever…and do whatever you like with the resultant image(s). But you shouldn’t have to be concerned that someone else, who doesn’t actually own the original item, is going to usurp your work for their own benefit without your permission, even if profit is not their motive.

I guess that’s more than two cents (USD) worth this evening, but I do think that this is a topic worth addressing.


Those are some good hypotheticals.

Let’s follow the Yosemite one further. I drive to Yosemite National Park today in 2021 and take a new photo Glacier Point. I now have a copyright on that photo for my lifetime + 70 years. I then put my photo for sale on eBay. If somebody downloads that image it, reprints it, they have violated my copyright. If they create a collage using my new photo they have violated my copyright. Any use of my new photo is under full copyright protection by default.

Now let’s take this Collotype of Glacier Point:

This image was produced around 1908, it originally had a copyright which belongs to the photographer and Raphael Tuck & Sons who processed that photo to create this collotype.

Because it’s over 100 years old the copyright has expired and it has fallen into the public domain. This allows anybody to do anything they like with this image. They can reproduce it as is and sell the reproduction. They can make a collage with other public domain images. They can even etch it into metal if they wanted to. Once any art is in the public domain it’s free game.

As for the “time and effort” put into creating the original artwork or copying someones original artwork, that has no effect on copyright.

For example if I spent 2 days going through that scan of the Glacier Point collotype above, pixel by pixel, removing scanner refractions, filling in damaged pixels to fully restore that image in all it’s original glory, all of my time and effort would not count as a new art work under a new copyright, because I started with art which is in the public domain. (and I didn’t add anything new)

And if I put the same 2 days of work into my brand new photo of Glacier Point, cropping it perfectly, removing shadows, etc. This also hasn’t changed the copyright of the original image. The time spent has no effect.

Now back to collectors and vendors selling ephemera on eBay. If they scan a photo of public domain artwork, no matter how much time they have invested, no matter how rare or unique the item is, the reproduction (a scan in this case) is also in the public domain. But here are two more interesting cases:

  1. A seller has bought my 2021 Glacier Point photo and is selling it on eBay, although he owns the physical photo I still own the copyright (unless it’s a work for hire) and the scan of my photo is technically a violation of my copyright.

  2. A seller does not physically own and is selling a digital reproduction of my 2021 Glacier Point photo without my permission. The scan on eBay is a violation and the physical copy is as well.

So all of this is to say, vendors scanning public domain art work, have no copyright on their scans and their watermarks don’t change the underlying copyright.

This maybe a self-serving take, but I think it’s correct, despite my complete lack of legal training :smile:


In my previous post I said:

The distinctions that some seem to make between photographs and scans don’t seem relevant in the age of digital cameras, either.

The point I was trying to make was that the effort required to take, print and/or post a photo in the digital age is so minimal that I questioned whether there was truly any more inherent creativity associated with a photo than with a scan. Creativity and originality seem to be the cornerstones necessary to qualify for copyright protection. I was amused to find, in one of the links from that “Who owns the copyright…” article you referenced, the following statement:

Digital photographers with whom I have spoken assure me that their work is both skilled and creative, and hence worthy of copyright protection - though I am not so sure. We may be in a gray area here: scans done on a flatbed scanner are not original, but scans made by a digital photographer with a camera may add some originality.

So, if a scan of a public domain subject cannot be copyrighted because it’s neither creative nor original, how much creativity or originality is required to earn a copyright for a photo of a subject that has likely been photographed hundreds of thousands of times, often from the same angle, in the same lighting conditions, etc., etc. It seems to me that unless there is something unique about the photo, other than the fact that you or I took it, it would fail the creativity/originality test. Perhaps if lightning were striking Glacier Point at that precise moment, or somebody was doing a final back flip off Half Dome.

Anyway, regarding copyright protection for scans of 100+ year-old cards (Tuck, Arbuckle, whatever), it would seem you’re probably legally correct that they don’t have any. That seems a shame to me, that no consideration is given to the time, effort, and expense involved in making such images available for collectors to view, thus allowing easy appropriation of those images by others for their own purposes, with virtually no effort whatsoever. It seems as though such court rulings could very well limit the availability of such resources for collectors and researchers down the line. Perhaps it already has.

Regarding use of images of copyrighted works to sell such items on eBay, I suspect that might fall under the “fair use” doctrine. That seems to be a somewhat murky and ill-defined concept that covers a lot of such limited usage of copyrighted works. In some cases, it may actually benefit the rights holder. For instance, I published a reference book for the Arbuckle cards in 2018. It’s obviously copyrighted, but booksellers quite naturally use an image of the cover to sell the book (on eBay, Amazon, et. al.). I can’t see how they could do it any other way! Now, if somebody were to take a photo or scan of that cover, blow it up into a poster, and try to sell that on eBay, I’m pretty sure I’d be able to make a case against them.

BTW, I don’t have any legal training either, but I sure do have opinions about what I think is right and wrong!


That’s interesting the article you mentioned says “that a scan made by a digital photographer adds originally”. Everybody has a great camera in their pocket now, so I’m not sure how that will hold up going forward.

I see your point about the time it takes to create an Arbuckle or TuckDB, scanning and categorizing takes a lot of time, and building a custom website like TuckDB takes a lot programming (tho it may be getting easier).

The write-ups about each card and the layout of Arbuckle is under copyright by default, even if the images remain in the public domain.

Yeah, I find it hard to fathom how time and effort (and expense) fail to merit consideration, but the legal realm can often be rather bizarre. Most laws are written by lawyers, but just try to find one who would accept that the product of his or her time and effort is free for the taking. Hah! Anybody else’s, though? Sure!

Oh, well. :frowning_face: