2020 vision #2: When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne

I mentioned in my previous post that I was looking forward to works entering the public domain in the US as a routine annual event. This coming January 1, we’ll have the second large expiration of copyrights in the US since 1998 (the first being the most recent January 1).  I’ve sometimes heard cynicism expressed that this would ever happen. Some public domain fans will tell you that Disney had been responsible for preventing valuable characters like Mickey Mouse from entering the public domain for decades, and that they’ll force more copyright extensions through before his copyright is scheduled to expire in a few years.

Personally, I think that’s a myth that makes despair too easy.  While Disney has indeed been one of the companies that has lobbied for longer copyrights, they’re far from the only group that has done so, and their role is often exaggerated relative to other entertainment and publishing industry groups.  Moreover, copyrights to some of their most profitable characters are already starting to expire, and  so far they have neither pushed hard to extend them, nor to my knowledge seen a loss in their profitably.

I’m referring here to the A. A. Milne characters that Disney now owns (after some earlier legal battles were resolved): Winnie-the-Pooh, and his friends Christopher Robin, Piglet, Owl, and the other inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood.  By some accounts they are as profitable as Mickey, possibly more so.  And they probably will remain profitable even as their copyrights end.

Christopher Robin’s first published appearance as a character, for instance, was in the poem “Vespers” (whose most famous line is “Christopher Robin is saying his prayers”). It appeared in the January 1923 issue of Vanity Fair, and is already in the public domain in the US, as of the start of this year.  Beginning in January 1924, Milne published more children’s poems featuring Christopher Robin and others in Punch, which were republished later in the year in the book When We Were Very Young.  That book was an international best-seller, and along with the later book Winnie-the-Pooh, it launched Milne, his son, and his stuffed toys to worldwide fame and fortune (which, as I noted in last year’s post on Milne’s Success, was at best a mixed blessing for them.)

I find When We Were Very Young a delightful book.  Like its successors, it isn’t straight-up nostalgic whimsy, but has a gently wry sensibility that parents may notice more readily than their children do.  Along with “Vespers”, some of the other verses (like the ones about changing guards at Buckingham Palace, and the king who likes “a little bit of butter in my bread”) are still well-known.  But the book is significant not just for the text, which is already in the public domain in some other countries with terms less than “life plus 70 years”, but for Ernest Shepard’s illustrations for the book, which will be joining the public domain in the US along with Milne’s poems.  Those include recognizable likenesses not just of Christopher Robin, but of a certain bear that appears a few times, including in the upper left of the book’s cover:

(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; they and I consider this low-resolution image fair use in our respective contexts.)

The bear doesn’t yet have the name “Winnie-the-Pooh”.   In this book he’s just called “Teddy Bear”, or more formally, Mr. “Edward Bear” (a name also used in his later book).  His appearance, as established in this book, joins the public domain next month.   The year after that, it will be joined by his “Pooh” name and his first prose story (“The Wrong Sort of Bees”, published in London’s Evening News at Christmastime 1925).  The following year, most of the rest of Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood friends will join the public domain, along with the book Winnie-the-Pooh (which includes Pooh’s bee story as its first chapter). Tigger, who bounced into print two years later in The House at Pooh Corner, will be the last of the major Milne characters to join the public domain, the same year as we can expect Mickey Mouse’s first copyrights to expire in the US.

But Disney will still have be able to profit substantially from its rights to Pooh (and Mickey).  After all, the Winnie-the-Pooh cartoons and movies they made came later, and their copyrights still have decades left on them.  Disney’s likenesses of Pooh and his friends also differ substantially from Shepard’s, and will therefore also be under copyright for many more years.

Moreover, much of the revenue Disney gets from these characters is not from their stories or cartoons, but from the merchandise associated with them– clothing, housewares, toys, and the like.  Those can be protected by trademark, and unlike copyrights, trademarks for various kinds of goods and services do not expire as long as their owners keep using them along similar lines.  (For example, while the character Peter Pan is no longer copyrighted in most countries, trademarks restrict using him to promote things like peanut butter and bus transportation to his current licensees.)

Someone who wants to reuse Christopher Robin, Pooh, and Mickey Mouse in creative works after their copyrights expire might still need to be careful about how they promote that work.  But courts have made it clear in cases like Dastar v. Twentieth Century Fox that trademark cannot be used to create a de-facto perpetual copyright.  I expect that over the next few years we’ll see some legal skirmishing over where to draw the line between unrestricted creativity and restricted merchandising, for Disney’s characters now entering the public domain.  (We’ve seen similar conflicts over Tarzan in the past, even as many of his stories have long been in the public domain and freely available online.)

Personally, I’m content if Winnie-the-Pooh-branded bedsheets and bubble bath remain Disney’s domain, as long as readers can freely enjoy Milne’s stories and Shepard’s drawings, and writers and artists can adapt them into new stories, scenes, and objects (and promote those new works within reasonable guidelines).  I’m hoping we’ll keep getting new arrivals to the public domain every year, from 1924 in January, then 1925 next year, and so on. And I’m hopeful that we will, as long as so many of us appreciate and make clear the value of a growing public domain, that those who might otherwise try to extend copyright further can’t ignore us.

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2020 vision #1: Opportunity

In just thirty days from when this post appears, a new crop of works will join the public domain. Exactly what will come out of copyright will vary by country.  In Europe and other places with “life+70 years” copyright terms, works by authors who died in 1949 will join the public domain on January 1, 2020.  In countries that still have “life+50 years” terms, works by authors who died in 1969 will.  And in the United States, copyrights that were secured in 1924 that are still in force will expire.

As an American, I’m especially excited about the works in that last set.  For most of the 21st century to date, almost nothing entered the public domain in the US, after a 1998 law extended copyright terms by 20 years.  Then last year, all copyrights still active from 1923 expired, and we finally had a Public Domain Day here with lots of new published works that many people noted and celebrated.  And it looks like we’re going to get another big set of works from 1924 in the public domain next month.

Last year, I was so excited about the coming of the first substantial Public Domain Day here in a long time that I wrote advent calendar posts every day in December, discussing 31 works from 1923 that would (and did!) join the public domain in 2019.  It was a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. I thought it worth the effort, though, to note such a big change in the copyright environment we’d grown accustomed to.  But I wasn’t planning to do all that work again this year.

A few thing, though, have made me reconsider, at least in part.   One of them was an article I saw today about a new collection of stories by Zora Neale Hurston being published in early 2020, Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick.  Now recognized as a major 20th century American writer, Hurston published works in a variety of genres and forums from the 1920s through the 1950s.  However, she was not well known outside of African American and literary scholarship circles until the 1970s, when Alice Walker wrote an article in Ms. Magazine in appreciation of her work, and her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God was reprinted and became a best-seller.

Hurston’s new collection brings back into print a number of her early short stories, which the publisher’s blurb describes as “lost” and “in forgotten periodicals and archives”.  My first thought on reading the blurb was to be annoyed about the erasure of the librarians and archivists who collected, cataloged, and preserved those publications and thereby ensured that they were not, in fact, lost or forgotten.  But then, on further reflection, I realized that for much of the general public, they might as well have been lost, since many people do not have easy access to the libraries and archives that hold them.

One of Hurston’s early stories, “Drenched in Light”, appeared in the December 1924 issue of Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life, which published a variety of articles, stories, poems, studies, and art by African Americans.  The journal began in 1923, and HathiTrust opened access to its first volume on Public Domain Day at the start of this year.  My listing for the journal also includes some later volumes of the magazine, since as it turns out, the publishers did not renew copyrights for issues prior to the 1940s.  (Most of its authors didn’t renew their contributions either, as you can see in the full set of renewals we’ve found for Opportunity.)  My listings do not yet, however, include the 1924 volume.  HathiTrust has a scan of it, but neither they nor anyone else has yet opened access to it, presumably because no one with a scan feels confident enough about its rights status to do so yet.  I expect it to become visible in 30 days, when 1924’s remaining copyrights expire in the US and HathiTrust opens its volumes from 1924.

Those without access to Opportunity in print might be able to read “Drenched in Light” before then in Hurston’s previously published Complete Stories collection.  But they won’t be able to view the rich context in which it first appeared, from all the other writers and artists who had work published in Opportunity in 1924– even though as I noted in one of last year’s advent calendar entries, many early African-American publications, including many of Hurston’s stories, did not get renewed copyrights.

Between now and Public Domain Day 2020, I’ll be posting on works published in 1924, both the famous and the obscure, that I look forward to coming into clearer view in the new year.  Some will be joining the public domain on January 1.  Some, like the 1924 Opportunity issues, are already in the public domain, but are not as widely accessible as they could be.  (Though many of them can be found in my library, and perhaps in yours.)  I won’t write a post every day, but I hope to publish a fair number on a variety of works by the new year.  You’re welcome to participate, either directly, such as by suggesting works or contributing comments, or indirectly, such as by contributing further information about what’s in the public domain or soon will be.  (Our copyright information for Opportunity, for instance, is part of Penn’s serials copyright knowledge base that you can add to.)

I hope Public Domain Day will be an annual cause for celebration in the United States and elsewhere.  I want new arrivals to the public domain to become routine, but not taken for granted, lest the public domain be frozen again as it was for far too many years.  I hope this series of posts, and other work being done by libraries, readers, and fans of the public domain worldwide, help us recognize the treasures of the public domain and bring more of them to light.

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Wikipedia and the deep backfile

We’re continuing to add serial information to the Deep Backfile project that I announced here last month.  I’m adding some of the existing information in The Online Books Page serials listings and our first serial renewals listings that hadn’t initially been linked in when I made the first announcement.  I’ve added journals with deep backfiles from a couple more publishers (Oxford and Cambridge). I’ve started adding some new information on a few journals that I’ve heard people be interested in.  And I’ve heard from some librarians who are interested in contributing more information, which I welcome, since there are a lot of journals with information still to fill in.

But we needn’t stop with librarians and journals.  I’ve seen many kinds of serials written about online that potentially have public domain content, or the otherwise offer free online issues.  Many of them have articles about them in Wikipedia, sometimes short summary stub, and sometimes more extensive write-ups.  I’m most familiar with English Wikipedia, the largest and oldest, and recently wondered how many serials had free online issues or were old enough to potentially have public domain issues.  So I decided to answer that question by building a table for that set of serials.

It turns out to be a very big table:  over 10,000 serials with English Wikipedia articles that have free or potentially public domain content.  That’s bigger than the combination of all the other publisher and provider tables I currently link to from the Deep Backfile page.  There are lots of serials in it with no copyright or free issue information available, and it would take any single person a very long time to find such information, verify it, and fill it in.

But I think it’s still useful in its current state.  You can use it to find out about a lot of public domain and open access serials you’ve probably never heard of, as well as many that you have.  You can click through serial titles to see their Wikipedia articles, and improve on them if you have more information.  You can click on their Wikidata IDs to see and add to their metadata.  (As you can see from the relatively small number of end dates shown in the “coverage” column, there is limited information currently in Wikidata for many of the serials.)  You can see what we know about their copyrights, and about free online issue availability, and follow the “Contact us” links if you want to contribute more information about either of those.  (Last month’s post included instructions on how to research serial copyrights. Links to the two main resources you need to research them– the first renewals listing and the Copyright Office database— are now provided directly from the form you get to when you select a “Contact us” link.)  And when a new English Wikipedia article and Wikidata entry on a serial gets added that shows it was published before 1964, it will be automatically added to this table the next time we generate it.

Whether you’re a Wikipedian, a librarian, or just a reader interested in journals, magazines, newspapers, comics, or other serials, I hope you find this information useful, and I invite you to help fill it in as your interests and time permit.  Let me know or comment here if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions.

 

Posted in copyright, libraries, open access, serials, wikipedia | Leave a comment

Invitation to participate in a new project: Help open journals’ deep backfiles

As I’ve noted here previously, there’s a wealth of serial content published in the 20th century that’s in the public domain, but not yet freely available online, often due to uncertainty about its copyright (and the resulting hesitation to digitize it).  Thanks to IMLS-supported work we did at Penn, we’ve produced a complete inventory of serials from the first half of the 20th century that still have active copyright renewals associated with them. And I’ve noted that there was far more serial material without active copyright, as late as the 1960s or even later.  We’ve also produced a guide to determining whether particular serial content you may be interested in is in the public domain.

Now that we’ve spent a lot of time surveying what is still in copyright though, it’s worth turning more focused attention to serial content that isn’t in copyright, but still of interest to researchers.  One way we can identify journals whose older issues (sometimes known as their “deep backfiles”) are still of interest to researchers and libraries is to see which ones are included in packages that are sold or licensed to libraries.   Major vendors of online journals publish spreadsheets of their backfile offerings, keyed by ISSN.  And now, thanks to an increasing amount of serial information in Wikidata (including links to our serials knowledge base) it’s possible to systematically construct inventories of serials in these packages that include, or might include, public domain and other openly accessible content.

We’ve now done that, for packages from some of the big online journal publishers (as of today, including Elsevier, SAGE, Springer, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley).  We’ve also included inventories for the JSTOR journal platform, which has deep backfiles of sought-after journals from many publishers.  The inventories can be found here, and they include information we’ve gathered about first copyright renewals, when known, and also about free online volumes and issues that we know about.

Many of the journals in our inventory tables have “Unknown” under the “first renewal” column.  That’s where you can help.  If you find journals of interest to you in any of these tables, you can research their copyrights and send us what you find out.  Thanks to our prior inventory work, the process can be boiled down to a few basic steps:

  1. Find a journal of interest to you in one of the tables.
  2. If its first renewal is reported in the table as “Unknown”, look to see if it’s mentioned in our “first copyright renewals for periodicals” inventory.  (While most journals listed there are now linked with Wikidata, those that are not may still report “Unknown” in our tables.  We’re trying to fill those in as soon as we can manage.)
  3. If you don’t find the journal listed there, then search for it in the Copyright Office’s registered works database.  (We describe how to search that database in Appendix A of our “Determining copyright status of serial issues” guide.)
  4. Use the “contact us” link in the journal’s row in our inventory table to go to a form where you can tell us the earliest renewed item you found for the journal in steps 2 and/or 3.  Also tell us, if you know, whether the journal was published in the United States, or only elsewhere.   (Works not published in the US might be exempt from copyright renewal requirements.)

After you send this information, we’ll update our knowledge base and tables accordingly (possibly after doing our own verification).  You can also use the “contact us” form to inform us of free online issues we don’t yet mention, or contribute more detailed copyright information about a particular journal if you’re so inclined.  All copyright and listings data we publish will be put in the public domain via a CC0 dedication.

If you’re willing and able to contribute information for a large number of serials, there may be more efficient ways for us to exchange information, and I invite you to get in touch with me.  Also, if time permits, we can do our own research on serials that you’re interested in, so if you find a favorite in the tables and aren’t confident about researching it yourself, just follow its “contact us” link, and click on the “submit” button near the bottom of the form that comes up.

All of the journal providers mentioned above (none of whom have had any involvement with this project to date) also offer extensive archives of content that’s still under copyright.   Their newer journals from the era of automatic copyright renewals (1964 and later) aren’t generally represented in the tables we currently provide, which focus on the mostly-older content that’s openly or potentially openly available.  You can follow the links on the provider names above to get information on the complete offerings of those providers available for subscription or purchase.

Our Deep Backfile project is very much a work in progress, but I think it’s far enough along now to be useful for folks interested in finding and sharing information about serials in the public domain of research interest. I’m looking forward to hearing others’ thoughts, questions, and suggestions, and to making our knowledge base more populated and useful.

 

 

Posted in citizen librarians, copyright, open access, serials | Leave a comment

Everybody’s Library Questions: Copyright and advertisements

My previous post answered a reader question about how to determine whether a newspaper (or other serial issue) was under copyright or not.  (More details about the process can be found in our guide “Determining copyright status of serial issues”.)  Some people still wonder about the ads, though.  Here are some questions about those from Nena Ceg of Project Mindshare.  (Steve Jones also asked similar questions):

“Where can I find copyright information about illustrations from magazine ads (pre-1964)? Are illustrations in those ads in the public domain? They required a copyright notice from the illustrator, or the illustrator´s signature was enough?”

The short answer: Yes, ads, and the illustrations in them, can have their own copyrights, just like issue contributions and illustrations can have their own copyright.  But very few pre-1964 US ads still have active copyright; and research and library digitization projects often don’t have to worry about them.  Those wanting to use magazine ads commercially might need to take more care, not just for copyright reasons but also for trademark reasons.  For reliable legal guidance, you should talk to your lawyer (and I’m not one).

Here’s a longer answer with more details:

Finding ad-related copyrights

Copyrights for ads that appear in serials might be registered and renewed in one of three categories: in Contributions to Periodicals (which is where stories and articles in serials would also be registered and renewed); in Artwork (for advertising illustrations); or possibly in Commercial Prints and Labels.  The Catalog of Copyright Entries (which runs up to 1978, covering renewals for publications through 1950) published different sections for each category, and the sections can be examined and searched online.  (The link above goes to a page with more details.) All categories in the Copyright Office’s online database (which runs from 1978 onward, covering renewals for publications from 1950 and later) can be searched at once.  (Note that copyrights from 1964 and later either automatically renewed or didn’t have to be renewed, which is why we’re discussing pre-1964 ads here.)

There are a few ads renewed as contributions to periodicals, but not many that I’ve found so far.  In our copyright information page for the New York Post, where we’ve filled in details for early renewed contributions, you’ll see some ads for Schenley Distillers among the renewals. (The first one is dated May 15, 1936.)  Some  ads featuring the electric utility mascot Reddy Kilowatt were also renewed as periodical contributions– the earliest ones I’ve found ran in the Philadelphia Public Ledger in 1934.  I have a hard time recalling any other ad series before 1950 that had significant numbers of renewals.  Since we list the first contribution renewals for serials in our copyright inventory, though, if an ad was renewed as a contribution to a periodical appearing in that inventory, the periodical should be shown with a first-renewal date for contributions on or before the date of the ad.  (And in some cases, as with the New York Post, we also list contribution renewals after the first one, so you can look for a renewal for the ad in that list if it says it includes all active renewals up to the ad’s date.)

It’s also possible that images in the ads (or of the ads) may have renewed copyrights.  But, as with other images in periodicals, that’s pretty rare, and in our decision guide, we consider it highly unlikely unless they have a copyright notice of their own (as some did). We describe in Appendix C of our copyright determination guide how to search for copyrights of images.  You will find a few ad-related images in the sources listed there, including the original cartoon image of Reddy Kilowatt, copyrighted in 1926 and renewed in 1954.  Search for “Reddy” in Project Gutenberg’s transcription of artwork renewals from 1951 to 1959, and he comes right up.

Some other well-known cartoon characters that made their debut after 1923 also may have active copyrights, either from artwork renewals or from copyright renewals of the publications or films in which they first appeared.  (Many of the best-known characters, franchises, and syndicates with active copyrights are mentioned in Appendix D of our guide.)  But beyond Reddy Kilowatt, active renewed copyrights in characters specifically created for advertising appear to be rare, at least in the renewals I’ve looked at (primarily for publications up to 1950).

Advertising matter also could get copyrighted in the “Commercial Prints and Labels” category.  Unlike with contributions and artwork, no one that I know of has yet produced searchable files or databases for commercial prints renewals in the Catalog of Copyright Entries.  (They are in the Copyright Office’s searchable registered works database when that picks up in 1978.)  But there aren’t that many commercial prints renewals, so it could be convenient and not too hard to produce searchable files for the early active ones, like Project Gutenberg has done for other artwork renewals.  You can still look through them online through the Catalog of Copyright Entries scans, but for now you’ll have to look at the page images of the scans.  I’ve looked over many of the Commercial Prints renewals pages, and have found a number of labels and what appear to be standalone posters, but have had a hard time finding anything in this category that appears to be a magazine or newspaper ad.  (If you find any, though, let me know.)

Copyright, fair use, and trademark

I’m inclined myself not to worry about searching for ad copyright renewals unless I find a copyright notice for the ad.  (An artist signature by itself is not a copyright notice, though it can provide a useful name to search on if you’re inclined to do so.)  I’m not particularly worried both because copyright renewals for ads are rare in my experience (as noted above), and also because even if there are active copyrights in some of the advertising matter, a good case for fair use can be made for the sort of uses we tend to make of them in libraries and universities.  Our digitization is noncommercial; it’s typically for purposes of study, research, or commentary; the ads are generally not the primary focus of interest for the content we’re digitizing; and there is usually little or no market now for the ads themselves (as opposed to the products the ads were designed to sell).  Appendix E of our copyright determination guide has more notes on the use of materials that might still be under copyright.

If I were contemplating more commercial use of an ad, though, such as selling prints or T-shirts, or including them in promotions, I’d want to be more careful both to check the copyrights, and also to ensure that I wasn’t using trademarks improperly.  Although copyrights expire after a set time period, trademarks (including brand names, slogans, logos, and other distinctive imagery associated with a brand) can last indefinitely as long as their owner keeps them in use, with some still going strong after more than a century.

It’s not against the law to simply reproduce a trademark, but it can be illegal to present it in a manner that creates confusion or misleads a consumer.  For instance, if I reproduced a public domain ad for Coca-Cola in a newspaper that I scanned and put online, readers would not normally think that my scan was sponsored by Coca-Cola, or indeed had any direct connection with the company.  But if I placed that same ad prominently on a vending machine that dispensed bottles of Pepsi, thirsty customers might think they were buying a soda different from the one they actually got.  That could lead to legal troubles that I wouldn’t have from simply reproducing the newspaper.

Similar problems could result if I sold T-shirts or posters with a company logo or other trademark that customers thought was created or endorsed by that company.  For this reason, Disney may retain control over clothing featuring Disney characters even after copyrights for the older characters start expiring a few years from now. They can’t use their character trademarks to stop all reproductions or creative uses of copyright-expired characters, but since they’ve registered trademarks for the use of many of those characters in branded clothing, and continue to sell character-themed clothes, they’d have good arguments that, say, many unlicensed Mickey Mouse-themed hats or T-shirts would be confused for approved Disney products.

The long and short of it

In summary, then, I believe serial digitization projects can clear copyrights for ads in periodicals pretty much the same way that they clear copyrights for other material in periodicals.  The instructions we have in our copyright determination guide should work for them, as far as I’m aware.  Remember, though, that I am not a lawyer, and certainly not your lawyer, and you’re best off consulting one if you want more assurance about the legal soundness of your reproducing or otherwise using other people’s ads.  I also have not had as much experience myself with digitization of serials as others have.  Comments are open below (for now), and I’d be very happy to hear from people with more expertise or relevant experience.

 

Posted in copyright, serials | 2 Comments

Everybody’s Library Questions: Newspaper copyrights, notices, and renewals

Because I blog about  copyrights for serials, I occasionally get questions in comments to my posts about determining what exactly is copyrighted in those serials.  I’ve been slow to answer them in the comments threads, partly because some of them get a bit complicated to answer there.  So instead, I’ll answer them in posts of their own, so I can spend a bit more time on them, and so that others can more easily make their own comments.

Below I respond to one of the questions asked in a comment to my earlier post “Why pay for what’s free? Finding open access and public domain articles”.  While I’m answering these questions to the best of my knowledge, please keep in mind that I am not a lawyer, and should not be relied on for legal advice.  Much of what I say below is based on my guide “Determining copyright status of serial issues”, which I recommend for folks who want to know more details.

In a comment to my earlier post, Steve Jones asks in part

“When I look at an newspaper I can never find a copyright notice on them? Do they require them? For instance the Dec 8th 1941 Minneapolis Star Journal…. Is [it] copyrighted? Can I republish a newspaper article in a book? Could the Newspaper file a copyright later, say at the end of the year? If I want to use it in a book do I have to pay[?]”

Prior to 1989, all US publications, newspapers included, had to have copyright notices on them in order to be copyrighted. Publishing an issue without such a notice would normally put it into the public domain.  (There are some exceptions to this rule for inadvertent omission or unauthorized publication, but those generally wouldn’t come into play for an established newspaper in the 1940s.)

Not all newspapers published with copyright notices. (Some may have figured that no one else would bother to copy their material until it was old news, for instance.)  Newspapers that did publish copyright notices put them in various places, but the most common places were the front page, particularly near the newspaper title (where it appears in recent issues of The New York Times) or the bottom of the page (where it appears in recent issues of the Philadelphia Inquirer), or in a “masthead” section that gives basic information about the paper’s editors, publishers, subscription details, and so on.  The masthead section could be put in various places, but common locations included page 1, page 2, the last page, and the editorial page.  (Magazines often printed their mastheads on their contents page.)

I don’t have easy access to any 1941 issues of the Minneapolis Star Journal, so I don’t know if they had copyright notices in them or not.  (They can be quite small.  Both the Times and Inquirer issues I looked at have them in smaller type than the rest of the pages they’re on.)  Before you determine that a serial issue you’re interested in lacked a copyright notice, make sure the copy you’re looking at has all of the pages that originally appeared in the issue (including the cover, in the case of magazines that had them).  An omitted or cut-off page might be where the  copyright notice had appeared.   A transcription of a newspaper issue that doesn’t include page images may omit things like the original copyright notices.

Let’s suppose, though, that there was a copyright notice in the December 8, 1941 issue of the Minneapolis Star Journal.  If so, the newspaper would have been copyrighted initially.  However, as with other US publications before 1964, that copyright had to be renewed in its 28th year, or it would expire.  Looking up this title in my first renewals inventory, I see that there was no such renewal (either for issues or contributions) mentioned there for that publication, and since all publications with renewed issues prior to 1950 should be represented there, I can conclude that the newspaper issue’s copyright has now expired.

(While newspapers didn’t necessarily have to register their copyrights immediately, they did have to renew promptly 28 years from the start of the copyright– and that copyright would have started no later than the date of publication, even if registration was delayed.  So if a 1941 copyright was not renewed by the end of 1969, its former owner generally couldn’t go back later and try to renew it retroactively.)

Given that, you should be able to republish articles from a 1941 issue of the Minneapolis Star Journal in a US-published book(*) without permission or payment, as long as the articles in question originated in that paper.  (If they’re reprinted or syndicated from elsewhere, that articles might still have copyrights based on their publication elsewhere. But newspapers generally will include a copyright or reprint notice in those cases.)

Besides reprinted articles, there might be other parts of a newspaper that might still be under copyright even if the issue as a whole is not.  Major syndicates such as King Features and United Features were renewing copyrights to their comic strips routinely by this point, so any of their comics that ran in the December 8, 1941 issue of the Minneapolis Star Journal might still have active copyrights.

Newspapers, like many other periodicals, also had ads, which both Steve Jones and another commentator asked about.  It is possible for ads, or the images in ads, to also have their own copyrights.  But it’s quite rare for those copyrights to be renewed, and depending on what you’re doing, you might not have to get permission to reproduce a newspaper page even if it does have copyrighted advertising material in it.  In my next post, I’ll discuss ads in periodicals, and how one can research or respond to their copyrights, if they have any.

(* My answer in this post only concerns US copyright law.  Copyright law works differently in other countries, and some countries will keep something under copyright longer than the US will.  If this might be an issue for you, I recommend consulting an expert on international copyright laws.)

Posted in copyright, serials | 1 Comment