card meanings & reading
Tarot Card Copyright
The Tarot and the Public Domain
The Tarot cards have their European origin in the Renaissance, so they are as such part of the public domain. But what about the Rider-Waite Tarot cards that I allow myself to use on this website? Well, from the year 2012, they're free as well.
It was published in 1909 and has been reprinted countless times since. The deck was designed by the occult writer A. E. Waite (1857-1942) and the artist Pamela Colman Smith (1878-1951). Rider was the name of the original publisher.
European copyright laws stipulate that an artistic work becomes part of the public domain 70 years after the death of the author. So, for Waite (see the photo) it's the case the very year I write this: 2012. For the illustrator Colman Smith it happens in another nine years, but she is not accredited as an author. She was an illustrator who received a fee on delivery and that was it.
Therefore, from this year on, both the text and the images of the Rider-Waite Tarot card deck are copyright free. In other parts of the world, for example the USA, the copyright period is even shorter. To my knowledge, there is no country where it's longer than 70 years.
Therefore, we can expect to see a lot of use of the Rider-Waite Tarot in different media, from now on. My website is an example of it, although I started working on it before I knew of this circumstance. Just pure luck, I guess.
Post-mortem CopyrightI'm a writer, myself, so I agree with the copyright principle, at least during the lifetime of the artist: If money is made on his or her art, then of course a substantial part of it should go to the artist and any such business must have the approval of the artist.
About prolonging that copyright 50 or even 70 years after the author's death, though, I'm not equally convinced.
Very often it leads to problems, when relatives start to have a say about the art in question. Either they gladly sell it to circumstances the artist would never have associated with, or they suddenly censor the art in some sort of misguided care for the reputation of the artist. Very often they fight among themselves about the control of the inherited copyright and its revenue.
Usually, the ones profiting the most on the prolonged copyright are the lawyers.
Anyway, regarding the Rider- Waite Tarot card deck, this dilemma is over. Probably, it will result in the work of Waite and Colman Smith continuing to spread and receive appreciation for many years to come. I'm sure they wouldn't mind that.
More on the Tarot copyright issue at Sacred-texts.com.