Newspaper clippings

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  • I have 102 scrapbooks that were donated to our archive as part of a collection. These scrapbooks contain newspaper clippings from newspapers. large and small and many are probably defunct, all over the country and they date from the early to late 1930s. These clippings document the activities of the American Liberty League and were kept by the former president of the league for which the collection is named. These scrapbooks are deteriorating and need to be preserved in some fashion. Microfilming is probably the best way, but we are probably going to scan them in TIFF. My question is, if we were to mount the content of these scrapbooks on the web, can we run into copyright problems or is this fair use?
  • You may be able to post some or all of the clippings online, but not because it's a fair use. It's very likely that the copyrights in many of those articles have expired, which means they are in the public domain and free for anyone to use and reproduce.

    Here are the relevant bits of the copyright timeline available here:
    Works published before 1923: In the public domain
    Works published between 1923 and 1964: Under copyright if the copyrights were renewed; in the public domain if the copyrights weren't renewed.

    Unfortunately, it can be difficult or impossible to determine if copyright in a newspaper article has been renewed, especially a newspaper that has gone out of business. There is now a good database to consult for books (, but that's only for books. Many people and institutions choose to play it safe, and don't share anything online that was published after 1923. However, I know of a number of archives and libraries (including mine) that choose to take the risk, and post older archival material of indeterminate copyright status online. They include a notice saying that the copyright status of the work is unknown, and inviting any copyright holders to come forward if they would like the work to be taken down. Objections are very rare, verging on nonexistent, especially for works at the older end of the spectrum.

    You will have to decide what's right for your archive. The risk is small, but it's real.

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