Pictured – a book from our collection that covers digital copyright pretty comprehensively.
One thing that many of our libraries like to do is get their local yearbooks digitized by the folks down in OK. This is a cool service, but the next thing that our libraries want to do is put those files up on their websites. I’ve gotten a few questions about how to do this and I always ask “who has the copyright to these files”. Many times, the person asking the question can’t answer that one right away. Generally, the publisher of the yearbook – unless it’s from 1923 or before – has the copyright and could object via lawsuit to those images being posted on a library’s site. There are some subtleties to this – it’s not 100% black and white and the general legalities are covered nicely at The Legal Genealogist. If your local school published those yearbooks locally, you could be in luck – just ask and they’ll likely give their permission (get that in writing though – you want to be able to show that when future administrators come asking). If Jostens or one of the big yearbook companies published it, though, you might not be as lucky – they could still be selling those digital files and would not appreciate them being made available on the web without payment. Either way – whenever you put an image on the web, think about copyright and who owns that image and whether you have any rights to post it. As always, ask us if you have questions!