Aircraft art copyrights

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Jul 8, 2023
Hello everyone,

I'm a paper model designer from Poland. Currently working on a kickstarter campaign for my first line of products themed "War over Pacific" which will land on kickstarter next year and include Wilcat, Hellcat, Corsair and a bigger machine like a Privateer or Catalina, not sure yet. It's my goal to introduce some improvements to the hobby and I have one very specific question I find hard to find answer to which is - copyrights related to "decals", nose art and camouflage. I would love to recreate WWII era art but I'm not sure if I'm even allowed to do it?

I was able to find somewhat related thread. This one however is more about pictures than what you would put on fuselage :).

Would anyone be so kind and give me some tips if possible? Maybe guide me in some direction?

I'm currently gathering documentation and designing my first model - F4F-3 Wildcat :).


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Actually I didn't even mean to copy something from a book :). What if I recreate an art from historical pictures, videos?
Actually all the artworks created for a book are copyrighted and the artists receive a percentage of the book sales and that is often their sole source of income. I know this because my wifes family includes a fairly famous author.

The best contact is the book publisher.
That is the (re-) drawing and the research and text under the drawing.
Not the original artwork or nose art or whatever.

You cannot call copyright on something that you simply re draw.

As you put it if i was to redraw a vincent van gogh i could claim copyright.
The problem with copyright is that there is no international consensus. Copying nose-art for example would be out of copyright here in New Zealand, as the artist who owns the rights is dead (I can't remember how long after their death copyright lapses). Whereas, I understand that copyright has to be renewed in the USA.
In the US it lapses 70 years after the creator died, with a few exceptions for pre 1928ish but Disney had the act changed recently to make it in perpetuity for any work produced by a company.

The WIPA, is theoretically the World Intellectual Property Act but many countries reject it as overeaching, is slowly being forced on many countries as parts of trade agreements with the US. US institutions interpretation of the WIPA is extremely variable.

The NZ act varies from most I have had the doubtful pleasure to research in that in Aus and most of the EU/UK you can only copy around 10% of any copyrighted book for research purposes but in NZ you can copy 100% if the book is out of print and no longer available for purchase anywhere you looked. As it was explained to me - doing a quick check on a good booksite like that checks out all the main online sellera and printing out the result is sufficient proof that a book is not available and if you know a kiiwi library has a copy then you can copy 100%. I have done this several times over the years when I needed a hard to get manual for an aircraft/component I was working on to get copies from MoTaT.
Note I said created for a book.

If you recreate it then it is new art and your copyright.
Yup but i think you need to read what i typed above that. You can create anything for a book an call copyright on your drawing but not the original art. Thats what the o.p. asked about.

i think we are thinking a like in this one but it looked a bit claimy to me. I am sorry if you did not had that intend.

So for the o.p. sake: as long as you make your own drawing wich is not a blatent copy out of a book, you are good to go.
Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17)

USC 103(b) The copyright in a compilation or derivative work extends only to the material contributed by the author of such work, as distinguished from the preexisting material employed in the work, and does not imply any exclusive right in the preexisting material.

USC 106 (a) In General.—Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government....

I suspect you are referring to works such as nose art. Works created during WW2 would be covered by the 1909 Act, as later amended by the 1976 and 1998 Acts. Any copyright not originally extended would have expired before the 1976 extension. Any copyright that was extended could possibly not expire until 2035-40 (95 years). I would be very surprised if any of these artists applied for an extension. I would also ask the question of what effect the destruction of the aircraft (very few are still in existence) would have on the copyright, since the original no longer (technically) exists. Also, since these guys were 'working' for Uncle Sam, who actually even owns the art?

A lot of nose art was not original work, but was copied from Vargas, Petty, etc. One could surmise that these are technically illegal copies from the start. Vargas, the Vargas Estate, and Hearst Publishing ('Esquire' magazine) have been very zealous concerning their copyrights, and I suspect that all of his images are protected fro the full 95 years from date of first publication. He began working for 'Esquire' in 1940, so those copyrights will begin to expire in 2035. If you want to be perfectly legal, I suppose you could ask Hearst Pub. for permission.

Regardless of the original artist, you are talking about a very small, low-resolution copy. If you are reproducing an original aircraft, I seriously doubt that anyone cares, for the same reason that it was not removed from the original. The worst that is likely to happen is you will get a cease-and-desist order. Then you can punt.
The late Al Copeland, founder of Popeye's chicken, got the idea for the name while watching The French Connection. Copeland was ready to open but could not come up with a name. The line from the movie "Popeye's here" became the name for the chicken fast food chain. After about a year and a half, he was contacted about the name and by that time he was established well enough to make a deal.
I thought nose art was the property of the military that operated it. It was their planes and their employees that made it? No way that someone who made a picture on a B-29 could ever claim to own it.
Nose Art was allowed by several militaries, but they did not "own" it, only the aircraft it was painted on.
In most cases, the nose art was changed or removed when the crew was transferred.

As for camouflage, there is no copyright on camouflage patterns as long as it is recreated from original period photos or from air ministry directive guidelines.
Or equivalents like the US TO 07-1-1. The Germans probably had a D (Luft) publication and who knows what the others had. I posted the Aus equivalent when I found a copy but don't ask me where too.
I thought nose art was the property of the military that operated it. It was their planes and their employees that made it? No way that someone who made a picture on a B-29 could ever claim to own it.
Disney could would and did. There are a few realley good painters that made the girls on the planes. Even published ones. I do not recall a single one crying copyright. Most of the nose art as i gathered ( look up my thread ) were free hand, or quite a few after the pin up girls in the 40_ties. Get your period mags out and look for them and you will see. The painter might have dropped some clothing here and there but you will see.

What i am amazed by is the names under it, think that is more the crew then the noseart painter
And got away with it. Pto more then others i believe.

I am quit sure most of these names were very not pc.

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