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The purpose of this blog is to promote the Contra Costa County Genealogical Society by announcing upcoming events and reporting on past events. In doing so, I hope it will encourage all who are interested to attend any of our events and meetings, and share in our enthusiasm of genealogical research.


September 16, 2012

Copyright issues about newspaper obituaries


28 May 1920 - Portland Oregonian

Judy G. Russell, who is a certified genealogist, an attorney, and the author of the blog called “The Legal Genealogist,” has written two wonder blog posts about copyright.  She began answering a question from a reader raised about a society who had transcribed lots of newspaper obituaries and posted them on their website for all to use.

Her first post called “Copyright and the obit” talked about the copyright laws up to the end of 1963.  She gave some very good reasons why you can use an obituary that had been printed in a newspaper up to the end of 1963.
  • Any publications before 1923 are free of copyright and can be used freely
  • Between 1923 and 1963, if the publication had a copyright notice, the copyright lasted 28 years from publication date.  It was possible to extend the copyright, but she stated the newspaper would have to file for the extension for each date and pay a filing fee.  It is doubtful that newspapers did this for archive newspapers.
  • She also spoke about fair use, and the use of an image or transcription of an obituary for educational uses would fall under fair use. 

Her second post, called "Copyright and the post-1963 obit," continued the discussion for works created 1964 and later.  For works between 1964 and 1977, the copyright expires 95 years after it was published.  For works published between 1978 and March 1, 1989 the copyright laws are more complicated depending on who authored the work.  The laws changed again after March 1, 1989, and the copyright expires 70 years after the death of the author.   See her post for more details. It gets really complicated.

So you are probably safe using newspaper articles and obituaries published before 1964 in your work or blog.  For works after that, ask permission.


Copyright © 2012 by Contra Costa County Genealogical Society.

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