Copyright Concerns: SF Historical Photograph Collection

(Originally posted on Feb. 25, 2012 for IST 677 – Creating, Managing, and Preserving Digital Assets at Syracuse University.)

The SF Historical Photograph Collection chiefly consists of the photo morgue of the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin, a daily newspaper that existed from the 1920s to 1965. According to the photo collection’s FAQ page, the majority of the photos were “donated to the Library by individuals, companies or government agencies.” For the most part, the program has mostly digitized items from the History Subject Collection that are specific to San Francisco.

I had to do a little bit of digging to discover any kind of copyright information. Copyright is only addressed on the FAQ page and the Permissions page.

Via the FAQ page:

What does it mean when a photo database record says “restricted?”
This means that the name of a potential copyright holder has been stamped on the back of the photograph. In addition, many of the photos have been donated to the library with no known copyright information. The Library makes every effort to provide copyright information for the photographs that it owns, including contact information for any individual, business or organization that may own rights to the images.

I do wonder how the library specifically handles photographs from the now-defunct SF News-Call Bulletin. The newspaper likely had a copyright agreement with its photographers, some of whom may still be alive. How does copyright work with those images with still living copyright holders?

As far as “Terms of Use,” the use of the images outside of personal use is prohibited. Anyone who wants to use an image beyond personal use must submit a Permission to Publish form. The terms are spelled out on the Permissions page. I do think the program adequately communicates its copyright and “Terms of Use,” although I would place such information in a more prominent place on their site. However, this is a bit difficult because the program does not have its own website, and simply uses the main San Francisco Public Library’s website to publish its information.


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