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Content, Writing and Copyright Forum

    
Using Public Domain Works
using materials published before 1923
ccDan




msg:930167
 9:48 pm on Mar 21, 2004 (gmt 0)

Is anyone familiar with using public domain works?

As I understand it, and I'm looking for confirmation on this, any works published in the U.S. prior to 1923 (i.e. publishing or copyright date of 1922 or earlier) are now completely in the public domain. The copyright is no longer renewable, no longer in force, and the work is free to use by all.

The only exception being if it is used as a trademark. For example, if the Widget Company is using a pre-1923 widget illustration as their logo, then it has trademark protection. So, you couldn't use that image to sell widgets in such a way that a consumer would confuse you with the Widget Company.

Oh, and the other exception would be foreign works not first published in the United States, some of which may remain protected by copyright in their native country.

Other than that, as I understand it, pre-1923 works are free to be used by any and all, in any manner you see fit, including republishing the material in book form or online.

The web sites I've researched all seem to confirm this, and when they talk of restrictions or pitfalls of using public domain works, they all appear to be talking about 1923 and later works.

Can anyone confirm or deny this?

And, as "proof" of the public domain status, I have acquired the original copies of the books I would like to make use of, which show publication in the United States and have a publication or copyright date of 1922 or earlier.

 

rogerd




msg:930168
 12:58 pm on Mar 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

I can't speak to the specific legal issues, but one thing you can do, Dan, is check more recent publications of these works - if these lack copyright acknowledgement you are almost certainly home free. Thirty minutes at Barnes & Noble should provide some good research.

figment88




msg:930169
 3:02 pm on Mar 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

The best thing you can do is purchase The Public Domain from Nolo Press - ISBN 0-87337-433-9.

It's about $25 from Amazon and will answer most of your questions.

If you are just looking for books that are public domain, lists from Project Gutenburg and Eldritch Press are most likely ok. They are both pretty rigurous in their checking
[eldritchpress.org...]
[gutenberg.net...]

rogerd - checking for lack of copyrights is not a valid procedure. Many companies will re-issue public domains materials and assert copyright protection on their versions.

rogerd




msg:930170
 3:11 pm on Mar 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

Good point, figment. I'd guess the notice would include a clue as to what rights they were asserting.

bird




msg:930171
 4:10 pm on Mar 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

Be careful to make a clear distinction between your public domain widget and any representations thereof. While you may be free to use the item as such, a photograph of it for example could have been taken much later, and will then still be protected by copyright.

figment88




msg:930172
 5:15 pm on Mar 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

actually a photograph of a public domain widget meant to represent the widget would mostly be public domain.

If the goal is representation then the photographer is attempting to remove all creativity and merely "copy" the widget to another medium. This is no different than a simple transfer of a public domain movie from vhs to dvd.

If the photographer makes creative choices about composition, lighting, etc in an effort to make a photo unique from the underlying widget than it would most likely be protected.

Obviously there is a lot of grey area which is all the more reason to get the book from the fine folks at Nolo Press.

grayhair




msg:930173
 6:24 pm on Mar 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

To my understanding, yes, in the U.S. any book etc. with a copyright of 1922 or earlier is in the public domain and free for anyone to use. Just be sure to use the original material and not a reprint of it which may or may not have some valid copyrights.

When I post public domain materials on my site I have the following notice:

a word about copyrights
The old books (anything before 1923) on this site are in the public domain, if you can find them to purchase. Acquisition and preparation of these public domain materials is expensive, very time consuming and requires a lot of labor and skill. So, even though the books are in the public domain, the files on this website are not and they may not be reproduced in any form without stated or written permission.

I don't know that it would hold up in court but it does give notice that the files are not free to be copied and used elsewhere. It is somewhat like if you reprint a public domain work but add editorial content you can copyright the editorial content but not the public domain content.

Generally speaking, the U.S. has the longest period of copyright.

figment88




msg:930174
 6:42 pm on Mar 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

Seems like every post contains more and more inaccuracies.

Acquisition and preparation of these public domain materials is expensive, very time consuming and requires a lot of labor and skill. So, even though the books are in the public domain, the files on this website are not and they may not be reproduced in any form without stated or written permission.

This absolutely untrue. In fact according to the book I mentioned above (page 2/9) assertion of copyright of public domain material violates 17 U.S.C Section 506(c) which can carry a fine of $2,500.

Compilers of databases have long argued and lost that their time and resources warrant copyright protection.

Generally speaking, the U.S. has the longest period of copyright.

Only with the recent Sonny Bono Act has the US begun to catch up with Western Europe. Many post-1923 works first in the published in the US are in the public domain because of improper copyright notice. Those kind of shennigans don't fly in Europe.

When it comes to copyright do not listen to people, do not believe what you read on websites. In particular, do not believe anything from a lawyer who does not specialize in this area. You should only take advice from lawyers who specialize in copyright.

grayhair




msg:930175
 7:15 pm on Mar 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

figment88

If you will carefully read the notice it says the FILES on this website are not in the public domain. There is no assertion of copyright of public domain materials. All public domain material used gives source citation.

However, in many instances there is commentary, editing, etc. which is copyrightable under current U.S. laws.

It is absolutely true that "acquisition and preparation of these public domain matierals is expensive, very time consuming and requires a lot of labor and skill".

And yes, U.S. copyright laws are very complicated regarding post-1922 materials. Most non-U.S. copyright laws are straight forward but, so what, it is what it is whether you or I agree with it or not.

I am not a lawyer and certainly wouldn't want anyone to use anything I've said without doing their own research.

Dan_Norder




msg:930176
 10:44 pm on Mar 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

As others have said, if you use material from 1922 or before in the U.S., you are fine, legally speaking.

If you find a reprint after 1922 of material that should be public domain, it may have been edited or modified in some way, with new parts protected by copyright, depending upon the nature of the changes.

HTML pages of public domains can be copyrighted for the new formatting and such, but not the public domain text. Just how much formatting is necessary to be considered artistic enough to be protected would be an interesting legal question.

Of course there are a number of companies and people trying to trick people into thinking they have copyrights on some older material and who threaten lawsuits regularly. I don't know if WebmasterWorld would appreciate it if I named names, so I won't. Even if you are 100% in the right, you may have to pay legal fees to defend yourself, depending upon just how far these people want to take it.

bird




msg:930177
 12:57 am on Mar 24, 2004 (gmt 0)

Compilers of databases have long argued and lost that their time and resources warrant copyright protection.

Note that this is different in Europe. Compiled databases enjoy explicit protection over here.

ccDan




msg:930178
 1:28 am on Mar 24, 2004 (gmt 0)

figment88 wrote:
The best thing you can do is purchase The Public Domain from Nolo Press - ISBN 0-87337-433-9.

It's about $25 from Amazon and will answer most of your questions.

Thanks! I fortunate enough to forget my Amazon password, so I couldn't order it this afternoon. But, I say fortunate because, while searching Google for more info on public domain, I happened upon the book at Nolo Press's own web site.

The nice thing was that you can order an electronic version (PDF) from them. So, presto!, I now have the book in hand to reference! :-)

And, it was half the price of buying a similar eBook from elsewhere, from someone who is not a lawyer. I won't mention names, but I'm sure most people would recognize his name...

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