Copyright & Legal Considerations FAQ
(© 2016, Gretchen McCord)*

Important Legal Notice: Resources provided by the California Revealed project provide only legal information, not legal advice. Although prepared by a copyright attorney, nothing in these web pages or documents should be considered legal advice.

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Q: Does the "pre-1923" rule apply to photographs?

Q: If a county entity commissioned a photographer to take photographs and paid for these photographs, do these photographs belong to the county?

Q: Who has copyright in school yearbook pictures?

Q: Are volunteers treated the same as employees, in the context of copyright ownership? Would sound recordings created by library volunteers fall into the public domain?

Q: Who would own the copyright in old school letters (from 1931 to 1950s)? Some are thank-you letters sent to the Librarian for a school visit. Are these letters property of the Library's librarian? Or would they be considered orphan documents?

Q: What happens to a copyright belonging to an individual when the individual dies?

Q: Are older unpublished works, such as personal correspondence, protected by copyright, even if they were created before the current law took effect?

Q: During the 1930s, as part of the WPA, writers and researchers were commissioned to research and write about the local history for the benefit of particular counties. Some of these works have been published. Who is the copyright holder of these documents?

Q: If the local club of the League of Women Voters is no longer in existence, does a work created by them constitute an orphan work, or can permission be sought from the last officer(s) or from the national organization? What about recordings of their meetings?

Q: If letters are donated by someone other than the author, is a signed release form of any value?

Q: The local AAUW taped public meetings relating to water issues in 1978. Copies were given to the library for public use. Does the library have a copyright?

Q: Our oral history cassettes were created by three organizations (Friends of the Library, a local historical society, and a local college) in the 1970s-80s. The participants signed release forms stating that the recordings may be used for research and can be reproduced, copied, exhibited, or distributed for historical purposes. What rights does the library have?

Q: What constitutes "publication," and why does it matter?

Q: How can you prove or make sure a work is unpublished?

Q: What should I do if a descendent of someone who's donated personal items (correspondence, etc.) comes forward and says they want it back, e.g. "My grandfather should never have given that to you, and I want it?"

Q: Does HIPAA (the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act) apply to people who died before the law was enacted?

Q: Must the copyright in a work be registered for the work to be protected by copyright?

Q: How can we use works subject to a Creative Commons license?

* This page copyright 2016, Gretchen McCord. Content may be copied and used on an individual basis for non-commercial purposes only but may not be modified or broadly distributed without permission. For example, you may link to this page (linking does not infringe copyright), but you may not copy and paste the following content on another page.