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Copyright: Patron Guide to Copyright and Historical Materials

Conducting Your Own Rights Evaluation

When the Library has not provided definitive rights statements, you will need to find the rights information related to the item yourself.

Note: In all cases, it is the patron’s obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the Library’s collections.

Was the item made by the U.S. Government?

Is there a credit on the item indicating a U.S. federal agency or military service? U.S. Government works are not eligible for copyright protection. This does not apply to state, county, city or local government documents which may have copyright protection. Foreign governments may also have different laws.

Do you have (or can you get) copyright registration information for the item?

Evaluating the item’s rights status is easy when the name of a copyright claimant and the copyright registration number and date is found on the item. You can use this information to find the copyright owner or make a determination about the copyright status of the item. Check with the U.S. Copyright Office for more information.

Is the item registered at the U.S. Copyright office?

To find copyright information if not in the catalog or metadata record or on the item, you can:

  • Search the records of the U.S. Copyright Office.
  • Hire someone to perform a search.
  • Pay the Copyright Office for a search.

Further information about copyright searching is available in U.S. Copyright Office Circular 22, How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work, and from the Search Division of the U.S. Copyright Office (telephone 202-707-6850). Searches cannot be considered conclusive but will show a good faith effort and may be a good defense if challenged. If you find copyright registration information, the next step is to determine how long that copyright protection will last.

Last Reviewed: May 17, 2018