Sewerhistory.org’s goal is to make all material available as long as it is in the public domain or covered under Fair Use for your purpose. In many cases, we can provide high resolution images on request.

We wish all educational use of historical materials were covered under “fair use,” but this is not always the case, so users of historical material must be careful about copyrights. Copyright law in the U.S. changed in 1998, sometimes making it harder to be certain about copyright status. Many of the works on our site are in the public domain, but others are posted under “fair use,” which may or may not be applicable to your use. Here are the main guidelines we use for U.S. copyright law, based on information at the Cornell website and other websites listed below. Check these websites to be sure our information is up to date.

We hope these will help you determine when our materials can be freely used. Please feel free to contact us with any questions you have after using these guidelines.

Some material on our website, such as any work marked “All rights reserved,” is not available for use without permission. Please respect the owners of these images. As noted below, we can often give you information to get permission directly from the copyright owner if needed.

We ask that you give credit to the source and www.sewerhistory.org for any materials you use.


If the work was published before 1923, it is in the public domain and free to use.

If the work was published without a copyright notice from 1923 through 1977, it is in the public domain.

If the work is a U.S. government publication, it is usually in the public domain and free to use. (An exception might be something commissioned from a non-government agency — see further information). Source information for government works is on our website, so you can go to government websites and read their copyright guidelines directly.

If the work was published with a copyright from 1923 – 1963, it is in a gray area, since the author may or may not have renewed the copyright. It can be very difficult to establish copyright status for works in this range. (See internet resources below). Even if you don’t have the resources to research the copyright, usage may be allowed under “Fair Use.”

Unpublished works, including many photos from historical societies, follow different guidelines (see Cornell website). We do not have the rights to pass on the permissions we receive from historical societies, so you will have to contact them directly. We can give you our contact info if needed. On the website, we generally write “all rights reserved” on the source information for anything in this category.

“Fair Use”: The way you plan to use the work is important. If covered under the vague educational “Fair Use” rules (see government guidelines), excerpted works from any date should be free to use. We are not legal experts and cannot guarantee fair use status of anything, so use your own judgement of the work and your use of it to decide if this is applicable. Our reading of information on the internet is that fair use is so vague that it’s never completely certain unless someone challenges it in court. Fortunately, this is unheard-of in the sewer history field as far as we know. Fair use is invoked widely in the education community.

If the work is not clearly in the public domain and will be used in print, television or similar publications or in for-profit activities, you should find alternate material or research copyright status. We do not have the resources to do so.

General information about copyrights and how to research uncertain copyright status:

http://www.copyright.cornell.edu/training/Hirtle_Public_Domain.htm 
http://www.unc.edu/~unclng/public-d.htm
http://www.library.pitt.edu/guides/copyright/faqanswers.html#domain

Copyright law is complicated enough that we do not guarantee the copyright status of anything on our website.