The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code) governs the making of reproductions of copyrighted material, including photocopies and scans. For a library or archives to legally provide a reproduction of a copyrighted item, the reproduction is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research." If a researcher uses a reproduction in excess of "fair use" without permission from the copyright holder, that researcher could be liable to prosecution for copyright infringement. The JFK Library staff may refuse to accept a reproduction order if, in their judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law.

In the JFK Library’s archives, most collections have been donated to the United States government through a legal deed of gift, and copyright status of materials in our holdings tends to fall into one of three categories.

Public domain: In many cases, donated archival collections contain only records that were created by federal employees in the course of their official work, automatically placing the materials in the public domain. In other cases, the donor of the physical materials in a collection also donated copyright of protected materials within the collection, placing those items in the public domain. This information is included in the finding aid for each collection, and researchers are able to reproduce or publish these materials without permission.

Known third-party copyright: While donors can place their own work in the public domain by donating their copyright to the U.S. government, donors cannot transfer copyright of materials in their collections that they did not create, such as letters written to them by private individuals. Other common examples of copyrighted material in our collections include newspaper articles/cartoons, photographs, or films created by individuals other than the donor. In these cases, copyright remains with the creator (or their designated heir) for life plus 70 years - whether the work was published or not. Creators can also choose to actively retain copyright of their own work, and this is especially common in the audiovisual holdings.

To publish known copyrighted material, researchers must seek written permission from the copyright holder. In some cases, archives staff may be able to provide contact information for copyright holders represented in its collections. However, it is the researcher’s responsibility to ensure that necessary permissions are secured in writing prior to publishing materials from our holdings.

Copyright unknown: When an item’s creator is unknown or its provenance is unclear, archivists may not be able to determine its copyright holder. "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.

Please contact the JFK Library’s archivists with questions about copyright status:

Textual items:

Audiovisual items:

For information about copyright and permissions requirements for Ernest Hemingway materials, see Permission to Publish.

Right of Publicity

In addition to copyright protections, many states recognize the “right of publicity,” which 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.

About half of all states recognizes a right of publicity – including the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. MA ST 214 s 3A (M.G.L.A. 214 s 3A) states:

Any person whose name, portrait, or picture is used within the Commonwealth for advertising purposes or for the purposes of trade without their written consent may bring a civil action in the superior court against the person so using their 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 them.