Last night the St. Louis Publishers Associations monthly meeting covered the topic of copyright. Two attorneys discussed the concept of copyright, public domain, fair use and a new area called creative commons. It got to be a little confusing and, as the attorney joked, you can see why he will never have to worry about being laid off as a specialist in copyright law. It seems there are a lot of gray areas.
This topic was covered last year as well, so I was very careful in writing "Who's Been Sleeping..." to make sure that I only used pictures that were owned by me, the descendant of my homeowner who had given me written permission to use her photos, or photos I had taken of books that are now in public domain, i.e. published before 1923.
I have a different issue with my dad's book. In order to really flesh out his story, I have found photos of the ship he was transported on and the various bases he was stationed at online. There is also good information about the history of the camps on the Internet. I mistakenly thought that if I was only making the book for myself or a few family members, then I didn't need to worry about the copyright issue. Wrong! Obviously the information I have obtained is not in public domain yet, except for any information that the government puts out, which is not copyrightable. So I will need to either cut the information from the book, or seek permission to reproduce the photos and/or text. I probably can find government sites to fill in most of what I found on private sites.
I guess the bottom line is that as authors we can't have it both ways. If we want to make sure that our work is protected, we have to respect the protection of others as well. Besides, I can't afford a $150,000 per violation judgment!