Following the recent announcement of our partnership with the State Historical Society of Iowa, we have outlined our mission to microfilm and provide digital access to more than 12 million pages of Iowa newspapers. This exciting new project has already generated widespread interest and attention, which has inevitably led to inquiries and requests for additional information. We are thrilled at the opportunity to not only take part in this project, but to also engage with the community by answering these questions and further sharing our passion for preservation. One reoccurring question is regarding publisher’s rights to their content, and what Advantage Archives will do to ensure it is honoring the publisher’s wishes for content outside of the public domain. The short answer is simple: “The Advantage Companies value their relationships with the publishers. We will respect their copyrights, and will not reuse their copyrighted intellectual property without their written consent.”

What is a copyright?

The copyright laws we refer to apply protection to the works printed in newspapers. Although there is no area of copyright law that applies specifically to newspapers, the publishers own both their newspaper and online content. It is their intellectual property therefor they have copyright protection.

What is Public Domain?

In discussing newspapers, “Public Domain” refers to publisher’s works not protected by intellectual property laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it.

What are the key date ranges for newspaper copyrights:

There are two common ways newspapers enter the public domain:

  • The copyright has expired (pre 1923 or +95 years from publication)
  • The copyright owner failed to follow copyright renewal rules (1923-1989)

Although copyright laws are black and white, there is an area of gray between 1923 and 1977 where some newspapers were published without notice of copyright, or within compliance of the copyright law of the day.







With Notice & Renewed in the 28th year.

Expires 95 years after publication.


With a compliant copyright notice.

Expires 95 years after publication.



Even within this “gray area”, the rules are still spelled out quite clearly, it just takes some research and due diligence. These efforts are not required if the publisher grants permission to use the content.

At Advantage, we do not believe in operating within a “gray area” or providing access to content based on if it is “legal”. Rather, we believe in the newspaper publishers’ rights to their intellectual property.  If the copyright was not maintained after 1923 for failure to comply or renew, we will not research the status to look for ways in which we are “entitled” to use content after 1923. We would much rather collaborate with the publishers.

At Advantage, things are pretty black and white:





Articles published 1978 to 1 March 1989, without notice but with registration. If a newspaper didn’t put a copyright notice in the paper but registered for copyright protection within five years, it still has copyright protection. Most articles published in newspapers were written as works for hire (meaning written by an employee of the newspaper). The copyright term for these published articles is 95 years from publication.
Articles published 1 March 1989 to present. These are all covered by copyright for 95 years after publication. Again, we’re talking many years before these are public domain — and some won’t go into the public domain until the 22nd century!

Here is a summary of the laws as they apply to American newspapers:

  • Published Before 1923 it is in the public domain due to copyright expiration
  • Published between 1923 -1977 without a copyright notice, it is in the public domain for not complying with the copyright law of the time
    Published between 1923-1963 but copyright was not renewed it is in the public domain due to copyright expiration. If there was notice and the copyright was renewed, the paper is protected for 95 years after the publication date
  • Published between 1964 – 1977 with notice, the paper is protected for 95 years after publication date
  • Published between 1977 -1989 and published with notice, it is protected for 95 years after the publication date
  • Published between 1978-1989 without notice, and without subsequent registration within 5 years, is in the public domain due to failure to comply with the copyright law of the time. However if it was published without notice originally, but registered it within 5 years, it is protected for 95 years from publication.
  • Published after 1977 the newspaper is protected for 95 years after the publication date

There are a lot of “if /then” statements between 1923 and today, so Advantage Archives keep it simple: Anything after 1923, we need written permission before we will use any of the publisher’s content. Jeff Kiley, Chief Operating Officer of Advantage, was quoted in an article written by Kyle Munson and published on February 17 in the Des Moines Register.   He stated:

“There’s that gray fine line between what is right and what is legal”

Advantage will always land on the side of what is “right”, and not rely on a subjective interpretation of what is “legal”. If a publisher did not properly comply with the law, renew notice or maintain any number of other technicalities regarding their copyright status after 1923, we won’t look for that “loop hole” to exploit. Additionally newspapers published prior to 1924 that reside in the public domain, we do what is “right” and only place that content online after the publisher is provided advance notice.

By partnering with the State Historical Society of Iowa, our mission is to collaborate with Iowa’s publishers, libraries, educators and community leaders to actively preserve and ensure access to the history contained within our state’s newspapers. We will continue to work directly with local newspaper publishers as well as the Iowa Newspaper Association to secure copyright protection.  We need the full support of community publishers to succeed in this endeavor. Iowa’s collections include titles representing all of Iowa dating back to 1837: 650 papers in all. There are over 90 years’ worth of copyrighted newspaper content that could be made digitally available with the permission of the publishers.

Advantage has started to lay the groundwork for this project in our own backyard and we are currently working with the Cedar Rapids Gazette. We are pleased to have garnered such positive feedback from the Gazette on this project and to earn such a strong statement of support. Gazette Executive Editor Zack Kucharski outlined some of our shared beliefs on this project.

“Our archives are an important part of community history. They help us understand events in our community’s history, help us understand contributions of generations past from a truly unique vantage point: as they were happening. Making these archives accessible to the public is a great service to the community. “

In our experience, most newspaper publishers share Mr. Kucharski’s ideas on the importance of our communal history, which is found in the pages of newspapers, and the value of making this content available to the public. We feel that approaching the publishers and offering them yet another outlet to distribute this content in a meaningful way is worth pursuing.