Copyright Issues

in the Digital World

          Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer! This information is based upon my understanding of the copyright law in the United States, and should not be used to justify illegal acts.

          Since I started making my own infobases, I've always wondered about the copyright situation of the texts that I was working with. I never really found a decent source of documented information about what was copyrighted and what wasn't.

          Recently, I have found some good information about the Public Domain, like when is a work in the public domain as opposed to being copyrighted; what if the work is in the public domain, but some commercial product has a copyright notice on it, etc. I'll try to pass some of that information to you so you can be better informed about this.

          The first situation that I'll talk about is the handling of a book that is in the public domain, yet is compiled into a commercial product (and the work and/or the compilation might contain a copyright notice).

          To tackle this issue, let's look at it in two steps. First, how does the compilation affect the copyright status of an individual book; second, can a person (or company) claim copyright on the electronic version of a book, whether scanned by himself or if he merely "marked up" (formatted) an electronic text copy of a book.

          To look at the first issue, let's look at a quote from

          What can be protected as a compilation is that which is contributed by the author of the compilation; that is, the manner in which the preexisting material is arranged. The underlying copyrights still exist and the author of the compilation does not obtain any rights in the underlying work.

          So, just putting the electronic text of a book in a compilition does not give the compilation any more rights over the text than what the text had before the compilation. If a book is in the public domain, it's still in the public domain, even though it's been included in the compilation. Only the "original authorship [that] was involved in deciding which [books] and in what order to present the respective works within the compilation" is copyrighted. As long as the compilation itself isn't copied, the text of that book is still in the public domain and may be copied.

          This leads us to the question about the "underlying copyrights," which is the second question. Can the person claim a copyright by virtue of converting the text from a paper to an electronic form? How about adding formatting and references? For this to be true, it would fall into the "derivative work" category, and a "derivative work" as defined in the U.S. Copyright Act is "Any work in which the editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications represent, as a whole, an original work of authorship." (source) Obviously, just converting a book to an electronic format is not "authorship," and since you can't copyright "titles, short phrases, and format," anything that is added to the text to improve it's readability (and not it's content) can't be copyrighted either. Therefore, anything that was added to the book couldn't be copyrighted, unless the additions themselves could be copyrighted.

          A good example of this would be the chapter headings in the LDS quad. Since the Book of Mormon was first printed in the early 1800's, it's definately past its period of copyright protection. But, the chapter headings and footnotes were added to it in 1978. The LDS Church owns the copyright to the chapter headings since they constitute enough new material that it could be copyrighted on its own, but the text of the Book of Mormon has no copyright. So, you can put the Book of Mormon on the internet, but not the chapter headings.

          Now, everyone is going to be asking about the books in the commercial LDS-targeted products that you might find in your local LDS bookstore. From this information, I'd say that any book that is in these products that was published (not just the first publishing, but the edition that was converted to the electronic format) before 1923 (1998 - 75 years) is in the public domain and may be copied. If you notice in the Collector's Library '95, almost half of the books (the ones published before 1915) do not show any copyright notice at all.

          There are three ways that a work can enter into the public domain: (1) expiration due to the time limits on its copyright protection, (2) copyright abandonment by the author (voluntarily), and (3) works created by the government

          Links of interest:

          Next topic to be discussed: What "Public Domain" really means.

          Please remember: I am not a lawyer and this information might not be 100% correct. If you are a lawyer, and think some of this information is wrong, or would like to elaborate more on this topic, please contact me directly via email.

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