For some years, we've been compiling resources on copyright registrations and renewals that researchers can use to determine the copyright status of a work (including whether the work is in the public domain, and thus freely usable without any further permissions). Many of those resources can be found on the web page "Copyright Registration and Renewal Records", which is part of The Online Books Page web site.
Recently, and partly with the help of a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services, we've been adding more information about copyrights and renewals for serials-- publications such as scholarly journals, popular and trade magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. The Penn Libraries' collections are filled with many print serial issues, and much of that material as late as the early 1960s (or even the 1980s) is in the public domain, because its copyright was not renewed (or, in some cases, because copyright was never claimed in the first place). But it's been quite hard to verify public domain status for serial issues after 1923 (the point at which all US copyrights for serials, books, and other written works have definitely expired). Making it easier to find and verify later public domain materials enables us, and other interested researchers, to digitize them, share them, and use them freely in our research and teaching.
Some recent posts on my blog Everybody's Libraries summarize recent progress in this work, and answer some commonly asked questions:
- In "More and better copyright data online for serials and books" I note how our first renewals inventory has been updated, and ways in which searching for renewals for mid-1920s material has been streamlined.
- In "Newspaper copyrights, notices, and renewals" I answer some commonly asked questions about researching copyrights and public domain status of newspaper issues
- And in "Copyright and advertisements" I answer some commonly asked questions about the copyright of ads that appear in various kinds of serials.
I'm planning to post more updates and answer more questions on that blog over time, so follow it if you're interested in this work.
Penn librarians can also help with questions that researchers, teachers, and students have on copyright issues in their work. One good starting point for the basics is our library guide "Copyright Resources to Support Publishing and Teaching". That resource gives general guidance on copyright issues, and also has links for contacting a Penn librarian if you have more copyright questions.