U.S. copyright law

The copyright law of the United States, Title 17, U.S. Code, governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of the specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction of copyrighted material is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research." If a user makes a request for or later uses a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "fair use," that user may be liable to prosecution for copyright infringement. This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept a copy order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law.

Transfer of copyright

Archival materials held by the Kennedy Library are governed by a formal legal instrument – known as a deed of gift – that, in most cases, transfers their physical ownership and copyright to the United States, thereby placing them in the public domain. However, donors cannot transfer copyright of materials they did not create (such as letters written to them). In general, copyright remains with the creator (or his/her designated heir) for life plus 70 years. The copyright law extends its protection to both published and unpublished works.

Please direct your general questions concerning copyright to the Reference staff: Kennedy.Library@nara.gov or 617.514.1629.

Copyright of audiovisual materials

The copyright status of audiovisual materials held by the Kennedy Library tends to fall into one of three categories: public domain, unknown, or known third party.

  • Public domain materials are typically those that were created by government employees during the course of their normal work, materials in which the copyright has been donated to the United States Government by Deed of Gift, or materials for which copyright has expired. Public domain materials may be reproduced and published without permission.
  • Copyright status unknown materials are typically those with unknown or unidentified creators, and/or unclear provenance. "Orphan works," or materials made by entities that no longer exist, also fall into this category. Researchers are encouraged to consult the Library of Congress Copyright Office and relevant sections of the copyright law, and to conduct due diligence in determining the copyright status of these materials. Researchers who choose to publish "copyright status unknown" materials do so at their own risk.
  • Copyright known third party materials are typically those taken by identified professional photographers, television networks, production companies, or media outlets. Copyright may also be retained by a private creator of material. To publish known copyrighted material, you must seek written permission from the copyright holder. In some cases, AV staff at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library can provide contact information for copyright holders represented in its collections. However, please know that you assume all responsibility for ensuring that copyright is protected and that all necessary permissions are secured in writing prior to publishing materials from our holdings.

Please direct your questions concerning copyright of audiovisual materials to the AV Reference staff: JFK.AVarchives@nara.gov or 617.514.1622.

Right of publicity

The right of publicity prevents the unauthorized commercial use of an individual's name, likeness, or other recognizable aspects of one's persona. It gives an individual the exclusive right to license the use of their identity for commercial promotion.

In the United States, the right of publicity is protected primarily by state common or statutory law; about one half of all states recognizes a right of publicity – including the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. According to MA ST 214 s 3A (M.G.L.A. 214 s 3A):

Any person whose name, portrait or picture is used within the commonwealth for advertising purposes or for the purposes of trade without his written consent may bring a civil action in the superior court against the person so using his name, portrait or picture, to prevent and restrain the use thereof; and may recover damages for any injuries sustained by reason of such use. If the defendant shall have knowingly used such person's name, portrait or picture in such manner as is prohibited or unlawful, the court, in its discretion, may award the plaintiff treble the amount of the damages sustained by him.

Please direct your questions concerning the use of audiovisual holdings to the AV Reference staff: JFK.AVarchives@nara.gov or 617.514.1622.

Ask an Archivist

JFKWHP-AR6296-E (crop): President Kennedy Speaks at Press Conference, 25 January 1961

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JFK Library Flickr Photos

JFKWHP-KN-18481 (crop): White House Staff Members Accept Gifts from Colombian Group, 3 August 1961

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Remote Research is Here

JFKWHP-ST-C94-4-61 (crop): White House Army Signal Agency (WHASA) Advance Trip to Paris, 8 March 1961

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Archivally Speaking...

JFKWHP-ST-A11-1A-63 (crop): First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy at Opening of Mona Lisa Exhibit, 8 January 1963

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