Is my high school yearbook still under copyright?

I am holding in my hands my high school yearbook from 1975. I am poring over this government regulation. It discusses what happens to works created after 1/1/78 or created but not published before that date, but I can’t figure out what the rules are for works published before that.

Is this book still under copyright? Can I legally republish photos or text from it on the web without permission?

You are not my lawyer, you’re just some guy on the Internet.

Stanford’s Copyright and Fair Use site has some good summaries of the relevant laws. Here’s what they say about duration of copyright:

It seems to me that your high school yearbook, whether or not it is officially “published,” will be under copyright for quite a few years yet.

According to the same site:

It seems to me that this does not generally describe a high school yearbook. If your yearbook is not considered published, then copyright lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years.


a yearbook qualifies as a “work for hire,” something that has been “specifically commissioned,” as per the first paragraph in the first quote. Don’t yearbooks generally get produced for the school, and aren’t they usually put together by multiple people?

I think it’s fairly certain that the yearbook has been published. A lot of publications are made available through limited distribution channels, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been published.

To qualify under the work-made-for-hire provisions, the individual creators of the components of the yearbook have to be considered “employees” and they have to be subject to a written contract that explicitly states that their work constitutes work made for hire. Student volunteers on the yearbook committee probably don’t qualify as employees, and I have never heard of such a contract for yearbook clubs.

What seems likely is that the copyrights in the individual images and other original works in the yearbook are held by the individuals who created those components. Good luck finding out who they are.

I think the OP needs to consult a lawyer regarding how to proceed. Depending on the type of use the OP wants to make, there might be some good fair use arguments.

However, with regard to yearbook photos there might also be privacy issues. Depending on the type of use the OP wants to make, republishing such photos might run into problems with commercial misappropriation of a person’s identity.

Yes, it is copyrighted, and will remain so for many years. There is no renewal requirement for works post-1963, so the work did not have to be renewed to keep its copyright. The yearbook has been published (since you are holding one it was published).

As for fair use, it’s unlikely. While fair use is the go-to defense for internet copyright lawyers, its application is a lot more limited and strict.

THe real question is if the school district or whoever the author is, will actually care if you do stuff with the yearbook. My guess is that they won’t. Even if for some crazy reason they did, there would likely be no damages, since the market for a yearbook tends to be quite limited. Those are, however, factual matters for the court should it come to that.

In short: it’s copyrighted, you should get permission, but the author most certainly won’t care.

One of my classmates achieved a certain amount of notoriety and I considered posting that person’s yearbook photo and little blurb on a web site. To make matters more complicated I’m assuming that even if the school holds the copyright for the book, the photographer may retain the copyright for the photo. I’ll pass.

First question: is there a copyright notice?

Works made prior to 1978 required a copyright notice (and deposit of copies in the Library of Congress) as part of copyright protection. Lack of a notice could be grounds for putting the work in public domain, as would an incorrect notice. And, according to the law at the time (Section 13, p 6-7), an author forfeited copyright if he did not meet the deposit requirement.

Thus, without a notice and registration and – most importantly, depositing the work with the Library of Congress, the copyright was void before the 1977 Copyright law went into effect.

Because of the expense, and the deposit requirement, plus the fact that the school probably didn’t care, the book was probably public domain. If it was PD before the law, it remains PD (there was an exception for certain works where copyright had lapsed, but since the book was not copyrighted, it shouldn’t fall under that).

So, is there is a copyright notice or not?

As for the photo, the photographer would have had to have registered the copyright. It’s probably PD, too.

What RealityChuck sez. Pre-1977, lack of a proper copyright meant no copyright in the US.

There is no copyright notice.

Then the book was not copyrighted under the law as it existed in 1975. Assuming no one tried to regain copyright (I think that’s a safe assumption – who would bother?), the yearbook should be public domain.