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  • I know I've seen this topic discussed, but just can't relocate it now that we need it:

    We have been contacted by a writer who is doing a biography on a famous author who happens to be an alum of our college. While a student, this future author wrote for our student literary magazine in 1945, and the writer wants to use a couple of these stories in the biography she is writing. My question is, do we (the college) hold the rights to grant permission or must the writer get such permission from this former student?

    Thanks -
  • Determining the copyright status of these stories is potentially a very complex analysis, and it depends on several factors about which you have given us no information. First, is there a copyright notice on the magazine or on each story? If so, what name is listed as the rights holder? Second, how were the magazines distributed? It will be necessary to figure out if the magazine was published or not to decide what impact the presence or absence of copyright notice will have on the status of the stories. Unfortunately, our courts have been extremely inconsistent in their determinations of when something is published, so all we have is a "rough and ready" definition.

    While all of this information is needed to answer your question, I wonder whether you really should try to make this determination, rather than simply telling the author that she must contact the alum. It is clear that the college is willing to grant permission, or else you would not be asking the question. If the author is also willing, all is well. But if the author has not been asked, or is not willing to cooperate with the biography, I doubt it is wise for the school to let the putative author rely on its permission and possibly alienate a famous alum. So I would suggest that the answer should be, sure, we would be happy for you to use the stories, with appropriate credit to our literary magazine, as long as our alum tells you it is OK.

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