Copyright Law for Unpublished Manuscripts & Archival Collections

By Jennifer Mueller

Libraries keep unpublished manuscripts, letters and other historical documents in archives. Unpublished works in archives are protected by U.S. copyright law, and authors maintain exclusive rights to control the duplication and distribution of their work. Although authors may transfer their copyright ownership to others or give a library ownership of the work itself, even if it is the only existing copy, this does not by itself transfer copyright in the work.

Unpublished Manuscripts

The 1976 Copyright Act defines publication as the act of copying a fixed work and distributing it to others. Copyright protection begins when a work is first fixed in permanent form. For literary works, words typed and saved on a computer or written on a piece of paper are considered “fixed” and entitled to copyright protection. Before the 1976 act took effect, works were not protected by copyright until they were published. However, the 1976 act provides that unpublished works created before 1978 are entitled to the same protection as those created afterward.

Archives

Many libraries have archives of unpublished works, including manuscripts and letters, which are made available to researchers. The library does not hold the copyright to these materials merely because the copies are owned by the library, even if the archives’ copy is the only existing copy of the work. The copyright in these works remains with the author or heirs of the author, and protects the work for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years after the author’s death.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now

Reproductions by Libraries

The U.S. Copyright Act provides specific exemptions that allow librarians to copy works in the library’s collection without first obtaining permission from the works’ copyright holders. To qualify for the exception, the library must be open to the general public. If particular archives are restricted, they must still be open to researchers. This exception allows libraries to make up to three copies of unpublished works for preservation purposes, to replace damaged copies, or to share with other libraries or at a user’s request. Each copy must include a notice of copyright. The library may charge a fee to recover the actual cost of copying, but may not make a profit from the copying.

Fair Use

The doctrine of fair use allows the copying of copyrighted works in limited situations. While not every educational use is considered fair use, copying or quoting small amounts of copyrighted material, particularly for the purpose of historical research or criticism, may be considered fair use. Courts are more protective of unpublished work than of published work, however, reasoning that authors should have the right to control the first publication of their work.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now
Examples of Fair Use Copyright Laws in the Classroom
 

References

Related articles

Are Commercials Copyrighted?

With the free accessibility of information and creative content over the Internet, it can be hard to know what is legally available to take and enjoy for free. It can be confusing to realize that something that may be free and legal to enjoy in one context may not be in another context. Most people think of commercials as a free bit of advertising that they are subjected to when they watch television or listen to the radio. Just because a commercial is broadcast for free through certain media does not mean that it is legal for anybody to upload the commercial on YouTube or post it for download on a website. Commercials are copyrighted, and only authorized parties may broadcast, copy or distribute them.

About Copyright Laws for Movies

A copyright provides a legal monopoly on an original work of authorship, allowing the copyright holder to sue anyone who uses his work without authorization. Copyright protection applies to any work of art, including movies. Copyright law is governed primarily by the U.S. Copyright Law; with a few exceptions, the law prohibits state governments from legislating in this area. International copyright protection is available under several international treaties.

The Right to Sell Copyrighted Material

A copyright is a bundle of rights that includes a legal monopoly on the right to sell a particular work of authorship. If you wish to sell material copyrighted by someone else, or to sell a work that incorporates such material, you might be able to rely on one of two strategies: either take advantage of exceptions to copyright protection or obtain permission from the copyright holder.

Related articles

Computer Copyright Laws

There are a large variety of copyright laws and similar regulations dealing with modern computing technology. Examples ...

Most Frequent Copyright Violations

Copyright law protects original works of authorship by providing the copyright holder with a legal monopoly on the ...

Copyright Issues Involving Music

A piece of recorded music is covered by two copyrights. The copyright in the composition protects the music and lyrics, ...

DMCA Backup of Copyrighted Content

You want to make a backup copy of a DVD that you bought. The DVD is copyright protected, and the copyright holder has ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED