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Content, Writing and Copyright Forum

Copyright for Scanned Images of Public Domain Publications

 10:20 pm on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

Here's the scenario, someone scans a bunch of old publications well within the public domain and place them in a .pdf.

It's understood they can't copyright the contents but can that particular file be copyrighted if there is absolutely nothing original about it?



 10:28 pm on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)



 11:59 pm on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

Seems there is many similarities in this case to what I'm describing. Corel was sued by an art gallery, the only thing is the gallery was in the UK so they were using UK copyright law :


The Court's prior opinion indicated that plaintiff's exact photographic copies of public domain works of art would not be copyrightable under United States law because they are not original.[27] In view of the Court's conclusion here that U.S. law governs on this issue, it is appropriate to give a somewhat fuller statement of the Court's reasoning.


 12:14 am on Jun 30, 2012 (gmt 0)

Your OP described what is essentially a new item, in the same way as a collage made up of magazine pictures becomes a new work of art..

Your PDF work would have copyright, as a specific format presentation of the included public domain works..if a subsequent "author" moved just one of the "works" in relation to the others, or made additions or subtractions or other substantive changes....they would not be infringing your copyright..


 12:22 am on Jun 30, 2012 (gmt 0)

Just be clear you have a catalog from 1880, you scan the catalog and publish it as a .pdf . There is no changes to the content, the only thing that has changed is the medium. There isd no collage involved, artistic creation or even restoration.

If I'm reading this case judgment correctly that can't be copyrighted.


 12:43 am on Jun 30, 2012 (gmt 0)

Yes..normally a public domain item that has been merely "format shifted" cannot be granted copyright in it's own right..but that isn't precisely the way you described it in your OP..
someone scans a bunch of old publications well within the public domain and place them in a .pdf

That could have referred to a bunch of old postcards that are scanned and placed into a PDF compendium..the word "publications" threw me :)..the compendium of old images such as postcards that are public domain and then republished as a compendium happens frequently in "dead tree" land..and gets copyright..I have about a dozen such "compendiums"..if they had been republished in PDF form by the compiler: scanner ..they would have had automatic copyright in that PDF format too..

If I wished to scan the republished dead tree compendiums and publish them as PDFs I would be in breach of the dead tree compendium makers copyright in doing so..because I would be scanning items from an item which had copyright..however..if I got hold of the identical postcards and scanned them and then made a PDF with them in the exact same sequence as the dead tree compendium republisher..I would not be breaching their copyright..

Where I am the copyright laws grant longer times for items to be in copyright than do most other areas ..and certain items have additional years of copyright ( writings or papers written by those who at the time were in military service for example )..as I have amongst my businesses one which has a group of sites which sells old and antique papers and publications and postcards etc , I'm acutely aware of what can and cannot be done..and have taken legal advice, even on what size thumbnails can be used for selling items which are still in copyright..and how where I host affects what I can reproduce because of where its copyright may still hold , or not, as the case may be..

Postcards and sheet music ..and maps are fraught with peril ..hence postcards springing to my mind when I read "publications"..:)


 2:01 am on Jun 30, 2012 (gmt 0)

( writings or papers written by those who at the time were in military service for example )

Really? I thought it was only if they died in battle. This would make a dim sort of sense-- more likely to have died young, leaving minor children etc-- if it weren't for the fact that this is all in addition to the normal Life Plus 50. Or Life Plus 500 or whatever it is they're using now.

But then, France is definitely on one side of the Great Copyright Divide, while the U.S is on the other.

If your publications are books, look carefully at the publisher's advertising supplement at the front or back of the volume. These were often shoved in at the time the book was physically printed, so they may be under copyright even if the primary text isn't. Not long ago I narrowly avoided a sticky mess involving an e-book that fit this description. In the US it wouldn't have mattered, but it came from a famously persnickety British publisher :(


 6:42 am on Jun 30, 2012 (gmt 0)

That could have referred to a bunch of old postcards that are scanned and placed into a PDF compendium..

That makes sense, you've basically copyrighted the presentation of them however If I were to decompile your presentation and produce my own presentation using just the images?

The gray areas here are boundless.


 8:59 am on Jun 30, 2012 (gmt 0)

Think of a short-story collection, like The Norton Anthology of Obscure 19th-Century Writers You Wish You'd Never Heard Of. The collection itself can be copyrighted even if all the individual stories are in the public domain.

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