Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Note on the Copyright Issue

In my last post, I quoted a restriction I found on a book in the Brigham Young University, Harold B. Lee Library. Here is the quote again for reference.
No part of the publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means whatsoever, whether electronic, mechanical, magnetic recording or photocopying, without prior written approval of the Copyright holders, excepting brief quotes for inclusion in book reviews. Privately printed in the United States of America.
As an afterthought, I decided it might be helpful to point out some of the reality of making a statement such as this. First of all, the book was nothing more or less than a direct transcription of old mid-1800s Vermont probate files. There was nothing added, no comments, to explanations, nothing. There is now question that once a work is in the public domain, there is no way you can impose your own copyright claim on the once-public domain work. The word "work" in copyright law includes this book. See Copyright Law of the United States of America and Related Laws Contained in Title 17 of the United States Code, Circular 92 Chapter 1: 101. For an excellent summary of the entire copyright law see Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.

The next, more serious issue is that the statement made in this book is inaccurate, misleading and just plain wrong. The Doctrine of Fair Use cannot be abrogated by a written provision in the publication. Taken literally, this provision would not allow you to read the book. Arguably, your brain is a retrieval system. This is type of ignorant overreaching that gives researchers fits and gives copyright law an even worse reputation than it already has.

Just so there is no misunderstanding. The book is nothing more than a copy of a public domain document. There is no legal argument at all that would produce copyright coverage for this book.

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