Microfilm to Digital copyright question

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  • Hi Everyone: 

    I am a adult services/reference librarian at a medium sized public library system, and also manage our serials and microfilm collection. Previous to my position I worked in a reference/archivist capacity at a state preservation agency and we were the statewide repository for newspapers. I became familiar (sometimes painfully) of newspaper and microfilm copyright issues while there. 

    We have now been called by two companies who want to "digitize" our microfilm, which were actually bought from vendors like ProQuest and other institutions. One of them is the New York Times. Of course we do not hold the negative masters to these films and the only papers that are in public domain are pre-1923. Furthermore, from what I understand an agreement must be reached with the publishers before a digitization project is commenced in addition to the original manufacturer of the microfilm.  I also understand that because of the Tasini decision that duplication and dissemination rights might even be owned by individual authors of articles in these newspapers.  

    I told the companies in no uncertain terms that we were not comfortable digitizing our (mainly positive vesicular) microfilm because of these copyright issues. Digitizing positive vesicular film has its own problems as well. 

    My questions are the following: are these companies legit?  How is what they are doing not a massive violation of copyright law?  

    Thanks so much for any input. 

    Seth Smith

    Daniel Boone Regional Library 

  • Hi Seth:

    I don't know for sure if what the digitizing companies say they are doing is legit. You have educated me because I was unaware that the original manufacturer of the microfilm is supposed to be consulted.

    To me it's weird that the NYTimes wants to digitize your newspapers. Perhaps they are building a searchable newspaper database in hopes of monetizing search. Google digitized the web and created search (as you know).  

    I am curious.  I wonder if NYT is thinking about creating a digital database for collecting royalties.  This definitely does not sound legal.  

    Hmmm.  I want to know more.


    Sorry I am not providing a more helpful response.  If they don't hold the copyright and they are planning to provide full text, this is infringing. 

    Thanks for posting.





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