[APG Public List] Copyright and obits

LBoswell laboswell at rogers.com
Wed Nov 4 13:00:24 MST 2009

There is on the internet an unverified account of an attempted copyright 
suit between two newspapers. One was reprinting the other's obits. The judge 
threw out the suit saying that copyright could equally be assigned to the 
funeral home who wrote the obits. Apologies for not having the link as I 
just read it and moved on.

Judge ruled that a related suit was bogus anyway because the second paper 
reprinting the obits didn't take away any cash value gained from paid obits 
service offered by the first paper (since the 2nd paper didn't provide an 
obit service).

So the factor seems to have been loss of income. If I went and bought a slew 
of obits from a paper, then put them up online in their original form, 
making them available for free instead, I'd assume that definitely I could 
be seen as having deprived the paper of cash value every time someone 
downloaded the obit from my site.

However, if I extracted the barebones genealogical information and put that 
up instead, clearly it wouldn't be copyright violation (or as one editor 
suggested, just changed the word order and use a direct abstract). The 
barebones information as to relationships of people mentioned to the 
deceased is public information available elsewhere too.

or so I would guess (emphasis on 'guess').

On an aside, funeral homes as the originators of obits, is that a widespread 
practice?  Are there copies held by them (come to think of it I've found 
copies in funeral records but assumed it was taken from the newspaper 


  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Stephen Danko
  To: apgpubliclist at apgen.org
  Sent: Wednesday, November 04, 2009 2:48 PM
  Subject: Re: [APG Public List] Copyright and obits

  Thanks, Traci, for the link to this great resource on copyrights!

  After browsing through the document, though, I wonder if linking
  transcriptions of obituaries to an on-line index might be a violation
  of copyright. Many newspapers sell access to transcriptions of
  the obituaries they publish. Free on-line access to transcriptions
  of those obituaries would seems to violate the fourth factor to
  determine if the intended use is fair:

  "The effect of the use on the intended market for or value of the
  copyrighted work."

  Peter B. Hirtle, Emily Hudson, and Andrew T. Kenyon. Copyright
  and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for Digitization for U.S. Libraries,
  Archives, and Museums. (Ithaca: Cornell University Library, 2009), 92. 

  Were transcriptions of obituaries made available for free on the
  Internet, the market for and value of the obituary transcriptions sold
  by the newspaper might be damaged.

  My approach in this case would be to contact the newspapers that
  originally published the obituaries and ask permission to transcribe
  the obituaries and make them available through an on-line index.

  Best Regards,
  Stephen J. Danko, PLCGS

  ----- Original Message ----
  From: Traci Thompson TThompson at Braswell-Library.org

  I think your obits would be covered on many levels by "fair use".

  From: "Leslie Drewitz" <ldrewitz at mybpl.org>

  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?"

  APG Public Mailing List
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