Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Billy Crystal Photo Release

Dear Rich: I work at the public library in Long Beach, New York -- that's the town where Billy Crystal grew up. The company which produces A&E Biography contacted us for yearbook pictures of him. They also want someone to sign a release in order to use the photos. Our lawyer said we can't do that because we don't own the copyright, and the high school also said no, although I guess they are the publishers of the yearbook. I suggested they contact Mr. Crystal directly. What do you think? I'm so glad you asked. The Dear Rich staff thinks your attorney provided a mahvelous answer. As the owner of a yearbook copy, the library has no rights to grant. The rights holder would be the yearbook photographer (unless the photographer assigned the copyright or took the photos under a work made for hire arrangement -- btw, the relevant copyright law would be the Copyright Act of 1909). The high school (or whoever is considered the yearbook publisher) may have the rights, but good luck digging up the documentation from 40 years ago. Contacting Billy Crystal is unlikely to help A&E (unless he knows the  photographer). Billy's consent is not required for the use of his yearbook photo in a biographic report. On another note, we think A&E's permission dilemma would be solved if Congress ever passed the Orphan Works Legislation.
Ennyway, let's just close with two takeaways: (1) we love public libraries and suggest if you need more assistance on library legal issues, that you check out the Library law blog, and (2) we love Long Beach, New York, where we used to go on summer weekends to play Skee-Ball (R.I.P.).