Digital microfilm images

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  • We are thinking about putting digitized images of the microfilm of our local newspaper on our library's web site. We have microfilm of the newspaper back to 1894. Can we legally do this? Do we have to get permission from the paper? Do we have to get permission from the microfilm company? Could we put digitized images of individual articles (e.g. obituaries) on our website? Local papers, especially ones that are over 100 years old, are invaluable resources for genealogists and researchers, but they're not that accessible sitting in our microfilm cabinets. We would like to make these resources more available if we can.

    Public Reference Librarian
  • Well, depending on the age of the material, it may or may not be in the public domain - if it is, you can do whatever you want with it, without needing to ask permission of anyone for anything :) Anything published before 1923, for example, is in the public domain, and so you can do whatever you like. More recent works may or may not be, depending on the specifics of their publication - did they give copyright notice, etc. Peter Hirtle has a useful table at that may be useful in determining what is or is not in the public domain. If an item is not in the public domain, you would have to determine whether your use would fit into the category of fair use, or otherwise, ask permission. If you can't find anyone to ask permission of (such as if the newspaper is long since out of business, etc), you're kind of out of luck... There's a current lawsuit pending (Kahle v Ashcroft) that hopes to make such 'orphaned' works more accessible - has more information.

    This sounds like a great project - good luck with it!

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