The FellowsHub Journey Continues: An Adventure in Copyright

In 2018, the Digital Scholarship Lab, Special Collections, and the Department of Library Information Technology began designing FellowsHub, a portal for digitally exploring the enormous J. R. R. Tolkien fanzine collection at Marquette University. The team originally modeled its effort on the Syriaca Reference Portal, but decided to investigate other database options based on feedback from the Tolkien scholarly community. Conversations between Marquette Archivist Bill Fliss and various Tolkienists at events last year revealed an expectation among Tolkien scholars that the fanzines themselves would be made available online and full-text searchable. These scholars assumed they would be able to read scanned versions of the fanzines on Marquette’s site and search across their text. Such functionality had not been part of the original FellowsHub design, but the team quickly changed course to include online publication of the fanzines. Looming ahead on this new path, however, was the peril of copyright.

Navigating copyright for such a large and diverse print collection as the Tolkien fanzines is an adventure. The Hunnewell Collection at Marquette includes over 250 fanzine titles from 27 countries, ranging in time from the late 1950s to the turn of the century. The FellowsHub team consulted Marquette’s Office of the General Counsel (OGC) in developing a copyright strategy. Copyright law will prevent FellowsHub from publishing every fanzine in the collection. Deciding if FellowsHub can digitally publish a specific fanzine depends upon the publication’s age, country of origin, and the presence of a copyright notice somewhere on the document. To simplify matters, the team decided to begin by focusing only on fanzines published in the United States. Careful analysis with OGC of the complicated rules governing U.S. copyright led to the following plan of action:

· FellowsHub will proceed with publishing any fanzines from 1959–1989 that lack a copyright notice.
· Fanzines from 1959–1963 that bear a copyright notice will be researched to determine if the copyright was ever renewed. FellowsHub will publish any fanzines where copyright was never renewed. For those fanzines where copyright was renewed, the team will attempt to contact the copyright holders and seek permission to publish.
· For fanzines from 1964–1989 that bear a copyright notice, the team will attempt to contact the copyright holders and seek permission to publish.
· For any fanzines published after 1989, the team will attempt to contact the copyright holders and seek permission to publish.

Got all that? If not, the accompanying flow chart helps the FellowsHub team determine how it will handle a specific fanzine issue.

Decision Flowchart for FellowsHub

Preliminary investigation suggests that approximately half of the fanzines in the Hunnewell Collection can be published immediately because they fall between 1959–1989 and lack any copyright notice on the document. For the remainder, a reasonable effort will be made to contact the publisher for permission to publish. The team anticipates that many fanzine publishers will be delighted to allow Marquette to publish the fanzines for the purposes of scholarly research and enjoyment by fan enthusiasts. Most of these fanzines were of a non-commercial nature, circulated long ago among people who shared a common love for the works of J. R. R. Tolkien.

Stay tuned for more news about FellowsHub as the Long Journey continues!