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Handle yearbook copyright issues
before you find the book for sale online

Posted by on Jan 8, 2014 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by John Bowen
Because advisers raised this issue on JEA’s listserv before Christmas break, we thought now would be the perfect time to address the issue.

Students and advisers unhappy with various groups who buy and sell school yearbooks online, with no funds going to the student media, have several steps to consider if they want to fight the practice.

First, some points to consider:
• Yearbooks published before March 1, 1989 are no longer copyright protected. Resellers have clear access to them.
• If there is no copyright notice in a yearbook or if there is and the owner of it is not the school, the school is not the owner of that book if nothing else suggests the school owns the rights to the book. The printing company also has no ownership rights. Having the school be the copyright owner would also suggest the school can control content and decisions, and that is not smart in the long-run for student freedom of expression.
• For current student editors to engage in a copyright lawsuit, they would have to actively pursue a legal copyright infringement claim or appoint an agent to do so.
• Past student yearbook editors would have to assign copyright rights to current editor(s) to allow them to pursue a lawsuit on their behalf. This could create a larger claim.
• Advisers have no legal right to claim copyright infringement, just as a school has no rights.
• No class action can likely occur because copyright infringement suits are too fact specific.
• Students would have had to – or would still have to – complete the formal registration process and be able to clearly demonstrate the yearbook’s value at the time of publication through some sort of price guide.

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