FOBO: Copyright Law and Images from Old Books

A short summary with links and references.

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Photographs published before Jan 1st 1957 got at most 50 years of copyright protection after the death of the author (actually up to the end of the 50th calendar year), provided that the author (artist) was a "qualified person." This means they had to be a British citizen or have residency in Britain (or the republic of Ireland), or were an incorporated company operating in the UK or Ireland.

Photographs published before 1957 got 50 years of protection after publication, and so are out of copyright as long as the author was a UK citizen and the book was published in the UK and not simultaneously in other countries.

However, photographs that were still in copyright in 1995 had their copyright duration extended to life+70 years; photographs that had been in copyright in another country had their copyright revived. So the photo must be taken by a British citizen in the UK, or not have been published outside the UK.

See e.g. the BN5 guide

Engravings were from 1911 given life of the engraver plus 50 years. In 1995 this was extended to live plus 70 years. If the engraving was published posthumously, it's 50 years after publication.

1988 law

The question which provision applies to a work shall be determined by reference to the facts immediately before commencement; and expressions used in this paragraph which were defined for the purposes of the 1956 Act have the same meaning as in that Act.

(2) Copyright in the following descriptions of work continues to subsist until the date on which it would have expired under the 1956 Act

So we need to look at the 1956 act:

1956 Act

(3) Where an original artistic work has been published, then, subject to the provisions of this Act, copyright shall subsist in the work (or, if copyright in the work subsisted immediately before its first publication, shall continue to subsist) if, but only if,—

Provided that—