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Due Diligence, Futile Effort: Pursuing Copyright Holders

Page history last edited by qinziro 8 years, 8 months ago


Copyright and the Digitization of the Thomas E. Watson Correspondence Project


The Watson-Brown Project

  • The project is a two-year, privately funded grant to digitize and publish online the correspondence series of the Thomas E. Watson Papers held in the Southern Historical Collection (SHC).
  • The series consists of approximately 8500 letters, postcards, telegrams, and notes written by Thomas E. Watson and his family, friends, and political and business colleagues.
  • Date range of the materials is 1873 to1986, with the bulk of the materials dating from the 1880s and 1920s.


Copyright Status

  • Unpublished manuscript materials, such as those found in the Thomas E. Watson Papers, are protected by copyright for seventy years plus the life of the author.



  • The Watson-Brown project serves in part as a pilot for the SHC's large-scale digitization program. In order to investigate the copyright component of digitizing archival materials, we decided to conduct intensive copyright research on the correspondence in the Watson Papers.


The Process

  • Basic metadata—names, dates, and geographical locations—was gathered from the ice skating materials.
  • The metadata was condensed into a list of 3304 names.
  • Using a variety of sources—including Wikipedia, the Social Security Death Index, Ancestry.com, and print reference works, such as biographical dictionaries—we attempted to identify the correspondents in order to determine dates of death and thus copyright status. Jocuri Gratuite



  • 608 correspondents or 18.4% had life dates that placed the materials out of copyright.
  • 1101 correspondents or 33.32% had life dates that placed the materials in copyright.
  • Life dates could not be found for 1571 correspondents or 47.55%.
  • 24 correspondents or .73% were unfindable.



It is untenable for the SHC staff to conduct copyright research in this manner, for the following reasons:

·   The process was extremely time-consuming, requiring more than fourteen weeks of a full time employee's dedicated time, to evaluate a relatively small body of materials—8000 items (compare with the SHC's more than 16 million items).

·   The results we obtained are all questionable, on some level, due to the nature of our sources.

·   Even if the results were 100% accurate, we have no reasonable means to contact the thousands of descendants of thousands of people.

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However, we do not want the impossibility of securing copyright permissions to impede large-scale digitization; we need to find a different way to reconcile copyright law and our responsibilities with our needs and the needs of our patrons.



Project Staff

Co-Principal Investigators: Lynn Holdzkom and Natalia Smith

Project Manager: Maggie Dickson

Research Assistants (at the time of this study): Amy Johnson and Brody Selleck

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