If I buy something containing unique intellectual property at a bankruptcy auction, do I own all of it?

At a bankruptcy auction, I was given some master video tapes of a public event that many famous people attended. Since the organization was selling off its assets in bankruptcy, and these tapes were part of those assets, do I legally own the rights to sell or lease the images on the tapes to someone, or do the people on the tapes have the right to sue me if I do? I have no signed releases for any of it, but it was a public event and the organization did have a right to film it; in fact, they sold a tape of the event highlights. Do I now own the rights to it?

Asked on June 26, 2012 under Bankruptcy Law, California


Cameron Norris, Esq. / Law Office of Gary W. Norris

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

It would appear that you now own the copyright on the work.  Copyright is somewhat complicated and has expiration dates depending on the date the video was taken.  If it was taken before 1964, the copyright may have expired, meaning that it is in the public domain.  A summary of copyright terms is at the bottom of this post. 

If the organization owned the copyright to the tape and they sold it to you, then you own it now.  The people on videos do not own the copyright, the person making the video does.  If these are famous people, there are some limits to what you can do with their image, but those limitations are related to using their image to sell a product--not to selling a video of them.

You most likely own the copyright to the video.  You can sell copies of the images--without selling the copyright, but I would write a contract indicating that the purcahser of the video or still images is purchasing a personal copy, but is not buying the right to the copyright from you and may not further reproduce without permission etc. and I would also mark the container, still image etc. with your name and the (C) symbol. 


                                                               i.      Works from 1923-1963


1.       If renewed with the copyright office: full 95 year term


2.       Failed to renew: 28 year term


                                                             ii.      Works from 1964-1977


1.       Automatic renewal to 95 year term (28+67R=95 Years)


                                                            iii.      Works from 1978 till today


1.       Automatic renewal to 95 year term (28+67R=95 Years)


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