Saturday, November 19, 2011


Well, good timing on the copyright lesson! The next day I met with a representative of Alexandria's community band which will be celebrating its centennial next year. I'm going to be working with her to put some of the band's history on our website, using historical photos, music programs, photos of their awards and hopefully a recording of one of their upcoming performances.

When I expressed some concern about what musical selections we could use because of copyright and royalty issues, she pointed out that a Sousa march would work since those works are all now in the public domain. She had studied music law and quickly rattled off the years 1923 and 1976 and spans of 28 years and author's life plus 70. It was good to know that she was right.

One thing we talked about was sampling because it had been a big topic when she was in school. The number of notes, a phrase, a bassline and a loop could all be interpreted differently. And since I'm musically illiterate, my only contribution to that part of the conversation was that I only recently recognized the bassline from a Will Smith hit as being from a '70s disco song. While I'm sure that Smith's writers and producers knew that it was and maybe even got permission to use it, it occurred to me how much from the massive realm of popular culture is protected and that we may not even recognize it, especially when the newer use becomes so prevalent that we can't recall the original product.

Or in the case of one of Sousa's most familiar marches, where we recognize the spirited patriotic music, yet may not have a clue that the name of the song is "The Washington Post March" or know that it was actually written at the request of the newspaper's owners.
Courtesy: Library of Congress
No worries though since this song is in the public domain, but what published by the Washington Post is? Not as much as I want.

The Post began publishing in 1877 when copyright lasted 28 years and could be renewed for another 28. So what was published before 1923 should be in the public domain but that depends how it is accessed. ProQuest digitized the Post from 1877 to 1994 as part of its Historical Newspapers Collection and ProQuest makes its terms of use very clear to users:

"This Proquest® product is made available to you solely for personal or internal use.You may not publish, broadcast or sell any materials retrieved through the product or use the materials in any manner that will infringe the copyright or other proprietary right of ProQuest® or its licensors. Downloading of all or parts of the product in a systematic or regular manner so as to create a collection of materials comprising all or part of the product is strictly prohibited, whether or not such collection is in electronic or print form."

This means that ProQuest owns the copyright on its version of the Post, even for the content that the Post doesn't own anymore and is now in the public domain.

But not all photos published by the Post could be included in what ProQuest digitized. Some, like wedding announcement photos, would still be owned by the studio that shot them, shared them with the Post but never transferred rights to the Post. Not all photos taken by Post photographers were owned by the Post like they are today. Louis Johrden, identified as the Post staff photographer who took a photo of a fallen Alexandria police officer's funeral procession in 1928, may have actually retained the rights to his photos. His work is blocked in the ProQuest version of the article, which I'm posting part of below, with no intent to violate ProQuest's terms and conditions of use.

Courtesy: ProQuest Historical Newspapers Collection
Today I received a copy of another Alexandria police photo taken by James Thresher and published by the Post in 2007. I paid $19.95 to a service called Pictopia to get a 5x7 print for "personal use only" and was reminded on the packing slip that I "do not have permission to duplicate or republish in any medium" this image "without the written permission of The Washington Post." So I'm not going to but I will post this link to the image.

To use a photo, article or other content for other purposes, you have to get permission from the Post or its agent. What you want to use and how you want to use it determines where you go and what you ask for. The Post provides a page with the appropriate contacts for these rights and permissions.

Life plus 70 is extreme, unless it's a murder sentence, and I don't like it but I get it. My dad worked in publishing for most of his career. When I was little and he would read me a book, he would start at the title page and then turn to the copyright page and read it out loud. I think he did it to annoy my mom but I always remembered it.

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