Ask Us: Top Five Reference Questions about Intellectual Property

by Benjamin Whisenant, Church History Library
23 March 2021

Discover answers to some of the most common questions about copyrights and intellectual property that come to the Consultation Services team.

The Consultation Services team receives many questions about using materials from the Church History Library in personal or professional projects—for example, when a researcher wants to publish an image he or she found in the library. To illustrate how intellectual property (IP) laws impact access to and use of library collections, here are the IP-related questions we receive most frequently:

1. What do “rights” refer to when I visit a library collection?

A collection’s “rights” designation refers to its copyright status, which determines whether materials from the collection are available for reuse in another format, like reprinting a photo in a publication. When looking at a single item in the Church History Catalog, such as a book or a lone photograph, you’ll see its copyright status in the Rights field under “General Information” on the right side of the screen.

A single item in the Church History Catalog. Note the highlighted rights statement.

When viewing a collection containing multiple items, select the “About the Collection” tab to view the rights of the whole:

A catalog record for a collection with multiple items. Note the rights statement in the left-hand column under the About the Collection tab (highlighted).

Occasionally, some of the items contained in a single collection may have different rights statements. These differing statements are usually listed on the individual items within the larger collection. If you believe that one item in a collection may have different rights from those listed, please use our online Ask Us service, and we can assess the collection.

The Rights field lists one of five exclusive categories:

In Copyright—Owned by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

When the use rights are known to belong to Intellectual Reserve, Inc., you may request permission to use the item by contacting the Intellectual Property Office.

In Copyright—Licensed to Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

When the use rights are known to be licensed to Intellectual Reserve, Inc., you may request permission to use the item by contacting the Intellectual Property Office.

In Copyright—Other Rights Holder

When the rights belong to another rights holder, you will need to request permission from the rights holder. Please contact the Consultation Services team for help determining who holds an item’s rights. However, bear in mind that this is often difficult or impossible to conclusively determine, especially with older collections. (Note: In some circumstances, we may be able to provide a copy of an item for personal research and study. For more information, contact a Church History Library consultant or the Intellectual Property Office.)

Copyright Not Evaluated

When the rights are unknown, you may request an evaluation by using our online Ask Us service. We respond to requests in the order they are received. Depending on the nature, complexity, and age of the item, fulfillment of your request may take anywhere from two weeks to several months.

No Known Copyright

When there are no known restrictions, you are responsible for determining whether the item may be used, copied, published, or distributed.

For more information about rights statements in the Church History Catalog, see our website.

2. What is “personal research and study,” and when can I obtain copies of a copyrighted work?

The phrase comes from US Code Title 17, a federal law that addresses copyrights. It also discusses the limitations on and exclusive rights of libraries and archives. The law authorizes an institution to make copies of physical and digital materials with the understanding that their use will be limited to “private study, scholarship, or research.”Delivery of a copy is not equivalent to permission to publish. This permission must be obtained from the rights holder.

Many materials are digitized and available for viewing in the Church History Catalog, rendering a personal copy unnecessary. The right to reproduce an entire work—or a substantial part of it—exists only if the library or archive concludes that a copy of the work cannot be obtained at a “fair price.”2 (What is a fair price? Good question. Determining fair price involves several factors, and each case needs to be evaluated individually. If this situation arises, we will notify you.) Thus, in certain cases, it may be possible to provide you with a copy of a work (or a portion thereof) for personal research and study. When you ask for copies, we will assess whether we can provide one to you. Copyright will be one of the factors considered in the assessment.

3. Why are some materials still restricted if they have no known copyright or otherwise appear open?

A collection may remain restricted due to content considerations—for example, if it contains sacred materials or individuals’ personal information. If you encounter a situation like this, the library may identify other means for making these collections available to you (preparing a redacted version, granting individual temporary access, allowing in-person access, and so on).

4. How do I obtain permission to use library materials in a publication?

You don’t need to obtain permission to use materials marked “No Known Copyright.” Just download the item’s scanned image and credit “Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah” next to the image in your publication.

If the rights statement indicates that an item’s rights are held by someone else, you will need to ask that rights holder for permission. Permission requests will vary depending on who the holder is. For example, to obtain permission to use Church materials (those that are labeled “owned” or “licensed” by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.) in a publication, you should submit a permission request to the Church’s Intellectual Property Office. However, many of the rights to materials in the Church History Library belong to external (third) parties. If IP rights belong to a party other than the Church, it is your responsibility to secure authorization from the rights holder.

Likewise, if you have questions about trademarks or current Church media resources, please contact the Intellectual Property Office. For more information on the use of library materials, please visit Information Regarding Rights to Use Materials in the Church History Catalog, or contact a Church History Library consultant using our online Ask Us service.

When using Church History Library materials in your publication, please follow your publisher’s citation style guidelines. Additionally, the Church History Library has prepared a set of citation guidelines for many types of documents and materials found in the Church History Library and Church History Museum.

5. Can I post material found in library collections on FamilySearch?

For many items in the Church History Library, a FamilySearch icon appears on the catalog entry. Click the icon to attach the item to a person’s FamilySearch record.

A catalog record that can be linked to FamilySearch. Note the FamilySearch icon.

If an item doesn’t display the FamilySearch icon, you can simply place a link in the FamilySearch record referencing back to the catalog entry.