[APG Public List] Obituaries and copyright

Stephen Danko stephen at stephendanko.com
Tue Nov 3 17:40:57 MST 2009

I am not an attorney, but the following represents my own personal
approach to obituaries and copyright. My approach may or may not
be applicable to your situation.

While one might argue that a death notice is a simple collection of facts
and is, therefore, not copyrightable, I would think that an obituary
requiring some creative energy to compose is covered by copyright as
soon as it is set in fixed form (i.e. published).

Some newspapers have a policy whereby, when an obituary is submitted
for publication, the copyright is transferred to the newspaper as a condition
of publication (see http://www.adn.com/help/obit_guidelines/ for example).
For that reason, I assume that newspapers hold the copyrights on the
obituaries they publish (unless specifically stated otherwise).

The US Genweb Archives Obituaries Project will only accept obituaries if
either in the public domain (published before 1923) or if explicit permission
is obtained from the newspaper. I follow these same guidelines when
reprinting obituaries on my genealogy research blog.

Stephen J. Danko, PLCGS

Leslie Drewitz said:

...We have obituary binders where
we store a photocopy of the original obit and then it is transcribed into
the computer database and then (in some instances) linked online through
an index.

My Department head asks this question: "Are we infringing on any
copyrights here?"  

My opinion is that these "death notices" are public domain and are not
even written by the newspapers that carry them (my daughter is a funeral
director and advises that every funeral home has a preferred "plug in"
obituary form that they use to compose death notices).

More information about the APGPublicList mailing list