How To Tell If A Magazine Is In The Public Domain...
I got a great question today from my friend Barbara about public domain magazines...
"Hi, having recently bought your ebook collection and read some of your posts, I have a query. Now first of all sorry, because I have no doubt the answer is in this info somewhere but I just can't find it. Can you point me to the bit where you explain about Magazines and how to tell if they are in public domain please. Many thanks ~ Barbara"
Public domain magazines are a hot topic so I thought you may be interested in the answer to this question as well - here goes!
Thanks for the excellent question.
The primary focus of the Public Domain Treasure Hunter's Kit is on books in the public domain. The entire kit was essentially written to guide in using public domain books to create new information products so we didn't cover public domain magazines in any great detail. We have plans on the table to create a new product specifically about this but it's not nearly ready yet.
Determining the copyright status of a magazine isn't too much different from the procedures used to determine the copyright status of public domain books.
First off, any magazine published in the U.S. before 1923 is in the Public Domain (just like books).
Any magazine published in the U.S. between 1923 and 1963 could be in the public domain if it's copyright protection was NOT renewed 28 years after publication (again just like books).
The big difference between magazines and books though is that with magazines you have what I refer to as the double copyright dilemma ~ first you have to check the copyright status of the magazine as a whole, then once it's been confirmed that the magazine is in fact in the public domain, you have to check the copyright status of each article (or photograph) you intend to republish.
This is because, under U.S. Copyright Law, a magazine (or almost any periodical) is considered a "collective work". This basically means that the magazine as a whole is registered for copyright protection by the publisher AND...each individual article in that same magazine is usually separately registered for copyright protection by the author of the article.
In short, what this means is that you potentially have a situation where a magazine is in the public domain (because of the publisher's failure to renew 28 years after publication) but an article that you may want to use from that magazine is not in the public domain (because the author of the article registered for copyright renewal 28 years after publication.)
So the procedure is as follows...
STEP #1 - Determine If The Magazine As A Whole Is In The Public Domain
First make a determination as to whether the magazine itself as a whole is in the public domain. To do this you can use the exact same tools that we demonstrated in the Public Domain Treasure Hunter's Kit for checking the copyright status of a book.
Magazines published 1923-1950 = Catalog of Copyright Entries
There's few minor differences in how you search the records...
When searching for magazine titles at Catalog of Copyright Entries, you want to check the "Renewals For Periodicals" section of each year involved rather than the "Renewals for Books and Submissions to Periodicals" like you would for books.
When searching for magazine titles at Copyright.gov, I usually find it helpful to "Set Search Limits" to "Serials" so that the search results only bring back periodicals (serials - magazines).
If you find no evidence that the magazine has been renewed for copyright protection (no renewal found on file), then the magazine as a whole is in the Public Domain. Once you know that the magazine itself is in the public domain, that's an excellent first start. If the magazine is NOT in the public domain, you can't use any article from that magazine regardless of whether the article itself was renewed or not. If the magazine is in the public domain, then you can safely begin to check the copyright status of the individual articles within that magazine.
STEP #2 - Determine If The Article You Want To Use From The Magazine Is In The Public Domain
Now we move on to checking the status of any articles you want to use...
Same tools again for the years involved.
The major difference is that when searching at Catalog of Copyright Entries, you'll find renewals for articles in the "Renewals for Books and Submissions to Periodicals" section for each year involved (I have no idea why the copyright office did that but there it is).
At Catalog of Copyright Entries, you should search by article author name first, if no author is given credit in the magazine, you can try searching by article title but from experience, usually if there's no author given credit than the article is in the public domain (as long as the magazine is too).
At Copyright.gov, you should search by both article author name and article title.
Usually, if you actually find a separate renewal for the article, the renewal record will also list the magazine (with title and year) that it was published in - this is helpful for verification purposes.
Hope this helps.
Let me know if you have any questions.