Access to High School Yearbooks in Public Library

Submission Date:


Our local public library has started a collection of donated yearbooks from the high school. They requested to receive or purchase new yearbooks as they were published. As the yearbook contains underage students, information about their sports and clubs, we felt that this was protected personal information and should not be publicly accessible. The understood "agreement" when participating in the yearbook implies that this publication is available only to the current school population. People who are not enrolled, employed, or related to a current student have theoretically been ineligible to purchase a yearbook (it really doesn't come up so no formal policy is in place). We feel that it is a mismatch between telling students to not share personal details and then willingly handing over a roadmap of what meetings and practices they will be attending. Thank you!



I appreciate the care behind this question: when yearbook information is being assembled, not many people are thinking about all the places the publication could potentially go.

Whenever I get a question related to a yearbook, the first thing I do is check my legal research service to see if there are any new yearbook cases[1] in the New York State or federal courts. It's a chance to check on the latest in a niche area of case law, as well as to make sure I am working from the most current information.

Every time I check with the list of cases, I am reminded that while most people bust them out every so often for nostalgia or period-specific hairstyle mockery, one of the most frequent uses of yearbooks in the legal world is the identification of potential criminal defendants.

That's right. There are numerous cases[2] that show that in addition to a police station photo-array and a classic lineup, trotting out the high school yearbook is another way for people to seek out suspects in criminal matters.[3]

All to illustrate the member's very real concern: yearbooks, which can be used to directly and indirectly convey so much information about students, do not remain in school and student hands, and are not used exclusively to travel down memory lane.  They can be given away, they can be sold, and they can end up in police stations...perhaps by route of the public library.

Does that mean the library shouldn't house them?  Not from where I sit, but I do think some reasonable precautions to guard against releasing information about minors could be taken.

Schools[4] who wish to take such precautions can do the following:

1.  Register the copyright of the yearbook to the school.

2.  Include a copyright notice and a "reservation of rights clause"[5] in the published hard copy version, barring duplication for any purpose whatsoever.[6]

3.  Remind (it would be largely ineffective to require) students to keep their copy safe at home[7];

4.  If requested, provide a copy to the public library with the condition that the copy will not be in circulation and certainly not be digitized until a year after the earliest class featured in the book has graduated (i.e., if the books' youngest students are in class of 2030, the book should not be in circulation until 2031);

5.  Ask if the book could always be in a "special collection" that does not leave the library and cannot be scanned[8] (either forever, or until a specific date);

6.  If advertisers or sponsors require a copy of the book, make sure the advertising contract limits their use of the book to things that don't risk the privacy of the students (no leaving the display copy at the bar in the restaurant who bought an ad).

In this day and age, it can seem almost quaint to worry about the risk that over-exposure of yearbooks poses to privacy. But as the member points out, the information that can be gleaned from a yearbook can reveal things about a student's identity, activities, and schedule. Further-although they can of course be forged--in a sea of mis-identified or ambiguous images on social media, a yearbook's status as a school district "official" publication means they are a little more authentic (and thus valuable).

For this reason, a little extra care in how yearbooks are published and distributed is well-warranted, and should be respected by anyone who has asked to take it.

Thank you for a thoughtful question!


Here is a sample yearbook "reservation of rights""

(c) [YEAR] [District Name]

This [insert year] yearbook is a collective work protected by copyright owned by the [insert school district].  Individual images and compositions may be owned by individual authors.  No part of the book may be reproduced in any medium whatsoever without permission of the District.  The names and likenesses of people featured in this publication are protected by the laws of the state of New York.  Inquiries for permission may be directed to [address].

As with all template language, this is just a starting the final with your lawyer before using!


Suggested tags: Yearbook, copyright, school district, digitization, image use, privacy

[1] It's a very sophisticated legal search; I visit Lexis-Nexus, and type "yearbook" into the search bar for state and federal cases, and organize the results "newest to oldest."

[2]For example, see Wagner v. Hyra 518 F. Supp. 3d 613 (NDNY Feb. 10, 2021); Tytell v. AIW-2010 Wind Down Corp., 2019 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5412 (NY Oct. 19, 2019); Williams v. County of Suffolk, 2019 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5412 (NY Oct. 1, 2019). I would add that cases against genealogy sites like and are also often yearbook-driven; for an example, see Braundmeier v Ancestry.Com Operations Inc., 2022 US Dist LEXIS 212415 [ND Ill Nov. 23, 2022, No. 20 C 7390].

[3] I am not endorsing this practice, just noting that it exists.

[4] While it will depend on the circumstances, the school will be the owner of the copyright to the yearbook, even if professional photographers and other contributors retain the rights to their original contributions.

[5] This is really just language to warn people off from making non-fair use copies.

[6] Neither the copyright registration nor the notice will be a "magic bullet" that will stop a third party from using yearbook-gleaned information if they are determined to act creepy, but they can help reduce certain opportunities for creepiness.

[7] Maybe include a free ticket to the 80th class reunion, only redeemable if presented intact with the yearbook?

[8] Except to make adaptive copies per the ADA, of course (or to address damage as allowed by 17 U.S.C. 108).



Copyright, Digitization and Copyright, Image Rights, Privacy, School Districts, Yearbooks