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Newspaper archives and access to content

Newspaper archives and access to content

Written in December, 2016 for distribution to anyone interested in the Iowa Newspaper Association’s position on digitizing, archiving and marketing Iowa newspaper content.

Iowa Newspaper Association Newspaper Archives and Access to Content


Demand for news is greater than ever before. Public relations firms, governmental entities, political campaigns, corporations and others have long recognized the value of news content.  Some groups, like genealogists and researchers, are interested in news as a historical resource. Others, like politicians and corporations, seek out current news to monitor things like public opinion and commercial opportunities.

Technology continues to create new uses for content and an entire digital industry has prospered from the sale of newspaper content to end-users. Businesses that do not create a single word of their own content have entered the marketplace to sell and license valuable newspaper content.

It has long been the newspaper industry’s objective to monetize the content it creates so that it can continue to provide reliable, fact-checked news to those clamoring for it and, more importantly, continue to serve in the ever-critical role of watchdog over local, state and national governments…a role only the newspaper industry, with its feet-on-the-street staffing, can effectively provide.

No other medium has the manpower, the expertise and the commitment to provide investigative, oversight journalism…yet all three are quickly eroding in the newspaper industry.  This is the result of a public that is less willing to invest in its own knowledge, a government that is increasingly arrogant and more likely to make decisions behind closed doors rather than defend its decisions to those for whom it works and an industry that must provide its content on multiple platforms, while watching its primary revenue stream, advertising, significantly decline.

The newspaper industry has historically been the primary creator of content and remains a trusted source of information for the majority of the country. How then can the industry best protect and defend this valuable asset, and most importantly, support it?

 INA’s long-term objective

  • The Iowa Newspaper Association has sought out technology partners that can help collect, archive, aggregate and distribute digital content to news content creators, organizations and consumers. Its interest is in creating an archive from the present day forward. It recognizes that historical archives are very desirable for historians and researchers. However, the financial value placed on news content is in direct proportion to how current the content is. Public relations firms, corporations and other entities are interested in what the press is writing about today.

At least in part, this runs contrary to the desires of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Iowa’s State Historical Society (SHSI), which, while interested in continuing to archive newspapers to current day, is equally interested in preserving Iowa’s history through its newspapers…a laudable aspiration and one the INA supports while unable to commit financial resources to it.


The Iowa Newspaper Association has invested a lot of time and resources in identifying a method whereby it continually collects and archives digitized newspaper content, aggregates it and potentially markets it, providing easy access to those companies and individuals interested in accessing this treasure trove of data.

Most notably, the INA joined with the Kansas and Missouri press associations in 2010 to incorporate the American Newspaper Digital Access Corporation (ANDAC).

From 2010 until its dissolution in June, 2015, ANDAC concentrated its efforts on identifying a vendor that could convert print news content from a PDF format into a fully searchable XML format. In large part, this effort was undertaken during ANDAC’s 2012/2013 fellowship through the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. ANDAC’s discussions with potential vendors revealed the overwhelming costs associated with converting content, stalling the project and ultimately leading to the dissolution of the company.

ANDAC’s business model sought to leverage the newspaper industry’s core competencies, gathering and disseminating news and information, collecting and aggregating it and making it accessible to researchers, corporations, non-profits and the public.

Copyright considerations

No discussion of marketing newspaper content is complete without addressing the underlying issue of copyright…who owns the content? As it relates to the copyrighted status of newspaper content, a few general guidelines apply (1):

  • Works published before January 1, 1923 are in the public domain. Thus, there is no copyright protection.
  • Works published between 1923 and 1977 that did not contain a valid copyright notice are not protected and are in the public domain.
  • Works published between 1978 and March 1, 1989 that did not carry a valid copyright notice and were not registered within five years of publication are not protected.
  • Works published between 1978 and March 1, 1989 that did not carry a valid copyright notice, but were registered within five years of publication, are copyright protected for 70 years after the death of the author.
  • For works published on and after March 1, 1989, use of copyright notice is optional. It is copyright protected for 70 years after the death of the author. This was the impact of the 1988 Berne Convention Implementation Act.
  • There is a “fair use” provision in the U.S. copyright law that allows for the use of copyrighted material if it is for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching or research. If the copyrighted material will be used in a commercial nature, the “fair use” provision is likely not applicable.

It is the INA’s position that newspaper content created and owned by Iowa newspapers should be protected against unauthorized use by third-parties seeking to profit from the resale of newspaper content.

INA’s objective, as it relates to copyright, is educating its member newspapers on how their content may be used so each newspaper can make an informed decision.  In keeping with that objective, several years ago the INA developed a sample contract for Iowa newspapers that enter into agreements with third-parties wanting to digitize their newspaper content.  The contract is suggested language a newspaper can choose to use (2). When a newspaper enters into any agreement with a third-party (whether it’s a vendor, a library, SHSI or the INA), there are several things it should take into consideration:

  • Will the third-party be offering the digitized copies for sale to any other entity(ies)? If yes, what entity(ies)? (The contract allows for this only with express, written permission of the newspaper).
  • Does the third-party own or operate another company(ies) to which it will provide the digitized copy? If so, for what purpose?
  • Will the third-party retain a copy of the digitized files at its office? If so, for what purpose?
  • What will the third-party charge the newspaper to have its issues digitized?
  • What royalty will the third-party pay to the newspaper for its resale, as granted by the newspaper? (The contract leaves this up to negotiation between the newspaper and the third-party).
  • If the newspaper chooses to have its issues digitized, but does not allow the third-party to resell the content, how will that impact the cost of digitizing the newspaper?

This is an important issue that has at its core the newspaper industry’s efforts to identify the business model that will help it monetize the valuable copy it generates daily.

 What’s happening in a few neighboring states?


Beginning in 2010, the Minnesota Newspaper Association began working with the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) on an effort to digitalize Minnesota newspapers. This project was sparked by MHS’ decision to stop microfilming newspapers. Currently, only a couple dozen Minnesota newspapers are sending copies of issues of their newspapers to MHS.  These digital copies received by MHS are only available in the state library.

When the project began, MHS received a grant and funding from the Minnesota Legacy Fund, a taxpayer-supported fund helping to fund arts, arts education and arts access, and to preserve Minnesota’s history and cultural heritage.

However, like the case in Iowa, there are thousands of Minnesota newspapers sitting in warehouses waiting to be digitalized.


In February, 2015, NewzGroup, Columbia, MO, announced that it would partner with the Missouri School of Journalism to launch a pilot project to create born-digital news archives with the help of a $35,000 grant from the Knight Prototype Fund. Its objective is to establish an infrastructure to assist Missouri publishers with preserving and monetizing their newspaper archives.

In addition, the State Historical Society of Missouri (SHSMO), working with Missouri newspapers, the Missouri Press Association and NewzGroup, proposed that it collect electronic issues of Missouri newspapers from NewzGroup and convert them to microfilm. Digital images of newspapers collected through this project would not be made available outside of SHSMO without the express consent of each newspaper publisher.

 Current status in Iowa

Since 2012, the INA has worked with NewzGroup to collect digital content from Iowa newspapers. Participating newspapers authorize INA to use its content in very limited ways through the Limited Use of Newspaper Content Agreement. The agreement allows…

  • Customized Newspaper Advertising, the sales and marketing arm of the INA, to secure tear sheets from advertising it sells for Iowa newspapers;
  • Public notices published in Iowa newspapers to be uploaded to; and
  • The Iowa Press Clipping Bureau, owned by NewzGroup, to provide articles/ads from Iowa newspapers to subscribing clients.

Through this partnership, the INA serves its newspapers by…

  • Protecting public notice advertising – One hundred percent of the public notices published in Iowa newspapers are housed on the fully searchable website, making them easily accessible, at no cost, to government organizations, contractors and others.
  • Providing free electronic archives – Participating newspapers have access to a free electronic archive of their newspapers.
  • Generating new revenue for newspapers – Each participating newspaper earns money for articles/ads that are sold by the Iowa Press Clipping Bureau to its clients.

In addition, the INA and the State Historical Society of Iowa have discussed ways to work together to collect Iowa newspaper content and make it accessible to SHSI patrons. Currently, SHSI receives a copy of each issue of each Iowa newspaper at its offices in Des Moines.  It no longer has the state financial allocation it once did to microfilm these newspapers. So, it collects, catalogues and stores them. As a result, these hardcopy newspapers, dating back to roughly 2005, are not easily accessible to SHSI patrons and the storage of these papers takes up a lot of space, which could otherwise be used for historic exhibits, etc.

SHSI recently entered into an agreement with Advantage Companies, Cedar Rapids, to loan Advantage its physical newspaper collection.  Under the agreement, Advantage will store the current inventory while transferring it to microfilm to ensure its preservation and will also use the microfilmed copies to digitize the newspaper content and provide web access.

As per the agreement, Advantage will…

  • Coordinate all aspects of the project, working with institutions to secure funding and securing publisher/newspaper copyright approval for preservation of published content post 1922.
  • Store the microfilm masters in its climate controlled vault (the content contained on the microfilmed masters may or may not be the property of SHSI, depending on the copyright guidelines, as outlined above);
  • Provide free web access to SHSI through its research centers.

Almost all of Iowa’s 285 newspapers (34 dailies and 247 weeklies), are digitized and stored either through the INA, a third-party vendor or by the newspapers themselves.  SHSI and the INA agree that it is both redundant and costly for SHSI to continue to collect, catalogue and store Iowa newspapers.

In an effort to determine just how many Iowa newspapers are digitizing and archiving their print editions, the INA conducted a survey of all Iowa newspapers in summer, 2016.

One hundred and eleven, or 39 percent, of Iowa’s newspapers responded.  From their responses, we can draw the following conclusions:

  • Approximately 74 percent of Iowa newspapers are being digitally archived. Some of these are also being microfilmed.
  • An additional seven percent are being microfilmed only.
  • All those newspapers being archived are archived up to present day.
  • One hundred and eighty-two newspapers (64%) are collected and archived by the INA through its Limited Use Agreement. Attached as Exhibit A is a list of these newspapers.

It is the opinion of the INA that SHSI no longer needs to collect, catalogue and store these newspapers.

 Ideal scenario

As noted above, it is INA’s objective to collect, archive, aggregate and distribute digital content to news content creators, organizations and consumers. Since 2010, it has been aggressively collecting and archiving Iowa newspaper content. Its current partner in this effort is NewzGroup and, through NewzGroup’s clipping bureau, the INA is sending approximately $6,000 annually to Iowa newspapers for content sold from its newspapers.

Ideally, all 285 Iowa newspapers would be consistently uploading its digital content to the INA via NewzGroup.  Currently 64 percent (182 newspapers), representing 41 percent of the state’s newspaper circulation, are doing so. INA will continue to work to increase these percentages.

The content in this growing archive is owned by the individual newspapers. It is INA’s desire to continue to work with NewzGroup, or another vendor, to market Iowa newspaper content, thereby providing increasingly more revenue to the content creators…the newspapers themselves.

In addition, INA would like to work with Iowa newspapers and NewzGroup to provide SHSI (at a cost to be determined and to be paid to the INA) access to current and ongoing Iowa newspapers’ digital archives. This would eliminate the need to invest in the ongoing digitization of hard-copy newspapers once the backlog is completed. The Limited Use Agreement could be modified to allow SHSI, and its patrons, access to the archives for very limited and specified purposes.


  1. These are general guidelines and should not be solely relied upon to defend copyright infringement. Please seek a legal opinion.
  2. An Iowa newspaper can secure a copy of this contract language by contacting the INA.