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Dear Mr. Hale,
First and foremost, it is very important to note that the National Archives does not confirm the copyright status of photographs but we will provide any information filed with the photograph. In other words, if we are able to locate the image in our collection, we will let the researcher know what copyright information is filed with the photo, whether that means the photo does not have any known copyright restrictions, if it is under possible copyright, or if the copyright status is unknown to us.
In terms of the Hoffman photographs, it is indeed a bit confusing when it comes to ownership and copyright concerns. It's our belief that any copyright on the items captured by the U.S. Army passed to the U.S. government at the time. Since the Hoffman photographs have been in the holdings of the National Archives, they have been treated as public domain material with no copyright restrictions.
Now, in terms of Hoffman photos, researchers should be aware that there is not a 1:1 in terms of what the Bavarian State Library holds versus what we have in Still Pictures. Basically, the Bavarian State Library has Hoffman photographs that NARA does not have, and NARA Still Pictures holds Hoffman photographs that the Bavarian State Library does not have. Though, to complicate things further, it is possible that there is some duplication between what NARA holds and what the Bavarian State Library holds. So, really, the copyright status of any Hoffman image comes down to which institution the image(s) were obtained from.
With all of that said, in order to determine if the locomotive images in question are under copyright, you would need to find out exactly where the photographs came from - NARA or the Bavarian State Library? NARA Still Picture staff can conduct a search within our records to see if we can locate the photographs. Should we locate the photographs, we will let you know what copyright information is filed with the images. Though, due to limitations on staff time and resources, we have to limit search requests to 3 specific images/topics/people/events per month, per researcher. You are more than welcome to send us 3 of the locomotive images and we can do a search. Our searches require 2 to 3 weeks to complete. You may submit your search request via email to email@example.com
Kaitlyn Crain Enriquez
Still Picture Reference Team
National Archives & Records Administration