I love reading old newspapers, so I have a subscription to a Newspapers.com and British Newspaper Archive, while I also get free access to NewspaperArchive.com through my local library (I just enter my library card number and password and I get it through my home computer). Awhile ago, I took screenshots of an article I found in an old newspaper on Newspapers.com and posted them in a stack exchange (I believe the history stack, but I can't find it anymore). Because the article was behind a paywall, someone edited the question or maybe answer and deleted the screenshots, claiming it was a copyright violation.

Well, I looked up the author of the article and discovered that he died something like 90 years prior. My understanding of the copyright laws is that the copyright expires 70 years AFTER the author's death. So, my understanding is that I can freely copy these articles. So, is this the case? Am I allowed to copy old articles WHOLESALE, virtually anywhere I want to, EVEN if I get the article behind a paywall via a screenshot?

  • The copyright would belong to the media company owning the newspaper, not the author.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 5:24
  • Interesting, I am pretty sure I am still covered, that would make it 95 years from when it was printed, and I believe it was just shy of 100. It was printed in the 1910s. Still, I am talking about much older newspapers. The ones I read are frequently mid-19th century or earlier. Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 5:27
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    Even if the article is not copyrighted, the site where you got it might, as a condition of letting you use it, require you to agree not to copy / screenshot / distribute / etc. So you wouldn't be infringing copyright, but you might be in breach of contract. Third parties could copy it freely, since they are not party to the contract, but if their doing so causes damages to the newspaper site, the liability for that falls on you. Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 6:22
  • @JimmyG. I'm not sure if you've just got an off by 10 error, or if I'm misunderstanding what you wrote, but if it was printed in the 1910s, it'd be more than 100 years ago, not just shy of 100 years ago. Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 12:56

3 Answers 3


Depending on where exactly you are in the world, there is some protection for the representation of copyright-expired material if work went into presentation. So you might be allowed to put a Bach cantata into musical notation yourself, since he died in 1750, but you cannot simply copy another publisher's sheet music to save that work. The same might apply to an old newspaper article. If you find a print and scan it, you can upload it, but you may not be able to take it from the database organized by someone else.

In , there is §40f Urheberrecht, which defines databases (they may or may not be collected editions). §40h clarifies how the right to a private copy in §42 extends only to "private use and neither directly nor indirectly commercial purposes."

In , there is 87a-e UrhG, which covers databases whose assembly did not represent creative work (e.g. by simply ordering things by date). They are protected if the assembly required significant investment. This "lesser protection" lasts only 15 years, not 70, and there is a "a significant part" test for copying less than the whole database.

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    I disagree. The database is protected, but not its content. That means you cannot copy the whole database or significant parts of it, but it doesn't protect individual records from it. A single newspaper is still free.
    – PMF
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 11:22
  • @PMF, it has been a couple of decades since that was an issue for me, but I seem to recall that the layout/formatting of sheet music was protected even if the melody was not. That included individual pieces in a collection.
    – o.m.
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 12:15
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    That might be the case for music that was in some way adapted, if only in formatting (even though this is probably debatable). But a scan of an old newspaper doesn't even change the layout. Even if the newspaper was OCR'ed and spellchecked, that would not add copyright, because that does not involve any creativity.
    – PMF
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 12:20
  • @o.m. it is like the MET Museum catalog: it's murky. The photos of the items are copyrighted because they have artistic choices to make the item pop as good as possible. The texts accomanying have copyright in their format and choice of words. BUT... the facts about it and the item depicted itself are not copyrighted by the MET - the former because facts are not copyrighted and the latter because the copyright on the item is either expired or where not with the artist.
    – Trish
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 12:44
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    @PMF, I edited to "weaken" my statement along the lines of Trish, but I still think that going behind the paywall and copying is not legal in many jurisdictions.
    – o.m.
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 15:57

Did you break your contract?

Even though there is no copyright violation, your use of the paywalled site will come with a terms of service. If those prohibit you copying the article then doing so is a contractural breach and would entitle the site’s owner to sue you or, more realistically, ban you.

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    This does not seem to answer the question at all. It also seems unlikely. I have skimmed the T+S of the sites mentioned, and it does not look in any way prohibited as long as the screenshot was restricted to the newspaper not the site (logos etc.)
    – User65535
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 12:59

W.r.t. copyright, I will assume that you correctly determined that copyright in the particular article has expired, therefore you can legally copy and distribute said content without violating copyright law. There is a tiny chance that there are derivative creative add-ons that are still protected (new artwork), but that is unlikely from a newspaper archive.

However, you might be in breach of contract with the archival service. I assume access via Newspaper Archives: here is your contract with them. First, they define The Services:

The Services includes the software, apps, web interface, and content offered in connection with the software, documentation, and online tools, whether they are accessed through the use of a mobile device, computer, or other method (individually and together, the “Services”).

You agree to pay them money to access The Services. §3 states what your license is and how you can use it, pertinent prohibitions underlined.

Company hereby grants you, subject to your compliance with this Agreement, a limited non-exclusive, non-sublicensable, non-transferable, license to use the Services. You may not download any portion of the Services or use of any Services other than for the purposes described in this Agreement or an Order Form. You may not use any data mining, robots, or similar data gathering tools or otherwise exploit your access to the Services for any commercial purpose, except as you provide professional genealogical services to third parties on an individual basis. You may not use any of the trademarks, logos, or other proprietary graphics without express written permission, which may denied in Company’s absolute discretion. Company’s logos and product and service names are trademarks of Company. All other trademarks appearing on the website or in connection with the Services are trademarks of their respective owners, and our reference to them does not imply or indicate any approval or endorsement by their owners unless such approval or endorsement is expressly made.

Content is part of Services, but there is also a section on Content, §6, which says

Our Content belongs solely to us, even when it is in the public domain. You may use Our Content only for your own personal non-commercial purposes (except as you provide professional genealogical services to third parties on an individual basis). You agree that you will not redistribute or sell any portion of Our Content or remove any proprietary notices or World Archive branding from any of Our Content that you download or print.

On the face of it, you are in breach of contract by copying and distributing the content that they hold. Therefore, you can end up getting sued in Utah courts. After proving that you broke the contract thus you are liable, the company would need to establish what the damages are, that is, how much revenue did they lose from your prohibited action? It might be $10,000 or it might be $1, that's a very fact-intensive determination.

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    I would question whether this §6 would hold in court. They cannot declare content their own that is in the public domain.
    – PMF
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 20:27
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    The suit would not be over taking their "content" which is what copyright is about, it would be over causing them financial harm by undercutting their right to collect money by providing easy access to public domain materials. They have a right to charge to access such materials, even if someone else could find their own copy and distribute it for free. §6 clearly indicates that the scope of the agreement includes "the stuff" that they make available.
    – user6726
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 20:52
  • @PMF the claim of ownership in section six basically allows them to "limit, suspend or terminate" a user's access to the service if the user redistributes public domain content obtained through the service, not to collect damages. User6276: there's no way they would win a suit for damages arising from the redistribution of a single public domain article. They may have "a right to collect money by providing easy access," but they have no right to control what others do with the material after they have paid for that easy access.
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 11:28
  • There are similar arguments over services that provide digital version of old newsreels and movies that people think they deserve free access to. The gist has been that the source material may be out of copyright, but the service is under no requirement to provide you with a free copy of their digitized version. Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 17:08

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