Copyright of Unpublished Materials

The current copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code), effective 1 January 1978, provides copyright protection for both published materials and for unpublished materials formerly protected by the common law. The current law provides for eventual termination of copyright. However, it establishes an interim period of twenty-five years during which unpublished older materials, formerly covered by the common law, will continue to be protected, regardless of the date of creation. No unpublished work will enter the public domain until January 2003.

The holder of the copyright has the right to publish the work, regardless of monetary value, literary merit, or historical significance. Ideas and information, however, are not protected by copyright. The author or creator of a work, or the heirs or assignees of the creator own the copyright, which can sometimes be separate from the ownership of the physical object. Copyright is not transferred with the object unless there is a specific transfer of the copyright along with the object.

The current copyright law provides that "fair use" is a limitation on the exclusive rights of the author. While "fair use" is not defined, guidelines for its interpretation include limited, non-profit use for scholarship (Section 107).

There is some ambiguity in the provisions of the law in regard to photocopying, but it seems clear that the intention is to facilitate private use. No copy should be requested or made except for such a purpose and any person obtaining a copy assumes a liability for any personal or later use exceeding "fair use" (Section 108). The Bentley Historical Library makes copies available only for private study. The researcher, by signing the researcher registration card, agrees not to quote, publish, reproduce, or display the copy in whole or in part without permission. Copies may not be further duplicated, nor deposited in or given to other institutions without the written permission of the director of the library. Copies may not be sold or lent to any other individual.

Permission to publish should be requested from the Bentley Historical Library as owner or custodian of the physical object and also from the copyright owner. The Bentley Historical Library will try to assist in identifying and locating the copyright owner but is not always able to do so. Securing permission to publish is the responsibility of the user. There has been little litigation regarding use of unpublished material. In cases of specific concern, legal advice should be sought.

For additional copyright information see the page maintained by the Office of Vice President and General Counsel.

On another legal matter, the researcher is warned that the use of libelous statements or the invasion of privacy is actionable under law. The researcher, by signing the researcher registration card, agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the Board of Regents of the University of Michigan and the Bentley Historical Library and its staff against all suits, claims, actions, and expenses arising out of his/her use of unpublished materials here.