Book People Archive

Copyright renewal information for periodicals online

Greg Weeks, Juliet Sutherland, and I have completed scanning copyright
renewal records for periodicals from 1950 to 1977.  You can view them from

You can view renewal records for after 1977
at the Copyright Office's official site at

I'm told that transcriptions of the 1950-1977 images are now going through
Distributed Proofreaders (so I would guess they will be eventually posted
to Project Gutenberg as the book renewals were earlier).

I've gone through these scans myself and created an inventory of the
periodicals mentioned in them, and when they started to renew.  You can
see the inventory at

It's of interest to potential digitizers that many well-known periodicals
either did not renew at all during this time period, or did not start
renewing until relatively late, meaning that not only their pre-1923 content
is in the public domain in the US, but much of their post-1923 content is
as well.  (Note our caveats in the page above, though, including the ones
about contributions to periodicals being separately renewable, and non-US
periodicals being exempt from renewal requirements in many cases.)

Some interesting observations from the file:

   -- Action Comics, where Superman made his debut, was renewed right from
       issue #1.  (So he would appear to still be under copyright.)  Indeed,
       comics and pulp fiction make up a noticeably high proportion of the
       periodicals in the inventory, and most renewed from the start of
       their runs or very close to it.

   -- Most daily newspapers were *not* renewed in this time period, or
       did not renew right away.  A few New York papers were renewing early,
       but the New York Times didn't start renewing the whole paper before
       1928.  (They'd renewed their book review and magazine sections prior
       to that.)

       No daily newspaper *outside* New York renewed issues prior to the end
       of World War II, and only a few prior to 1950.  So there's a lot of
       newspaper content that's in the public domain and eligible for
       scanning and reuse.

   -- Most magazines didn't start renewing right off the bat, though some
        did.  (The New Yorker did, for instance.  But the New Republic, Time,
        and the Atlantic are examples of well-known magazines that didn't.)

   -- Likewise, many scholarly journals didn't renew until well into their
       run, if at all.  (I'm working on a suitable sample to analyze, but
       initial impressions suggest a lot of applicable journals aren't
       in the list at all or only show up late.)

I'm now working on some papers going into the implications of this inventory
in more detail, but I thought it worth sharing the inventory with this list
at this point.  I'd be quite interested in hearing about any productive
uses this information gets put to.