Copyright Thoughts

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Copyright Thoughts

Post by sam_brewer »

It's an inevitable topic that comes up, and I've seen bits and pieces here and at other sites, but I am interested and thought a new topic was appropriate to capture the discussions regarding copyright. I hope that others more conversant in the subject can expand and correct any misunderstandings that I present here.

So, you've built a book-scanner and are converting your book archive to e-readable format. You may want to preserve and/or archive your work (and it is a LOT of work) or share your now easily-distributable eBook copy to other interested folks. But what is permissible without running afoul of The Law?

This is a question that I have in my mind, and hope to learn far more here than I post. But here's some thoughts as starter material for the thread.

First, the reason copyright-laws exist is to protect the work of the original author(s) of material. Books (for instance) take a LOT of time to write and publish, and the originators of material should be properly compensated for their efforts. Any material that is copyright-able is intended to make sure that the original thoughts, art, music, whatever are not going to be "pirated" by others and in so doing dilute the potential monetary rewards to the originators.

This is my layman's understanding of the reason for copyright laws.

The laws themselves have been modified substantially in the past 40 years, and this is my understanding of how the present laws affect copyrightable material based on a reading of Circular 15a "Duration of Copyright" published by the U.S.Copyright Office. I will limit my discussion to books, but I believe copyright laws apply to any original material published in any format - music, photography, art, etc.

In the "Old Days" under the Copyright Act of 1909, a book could be copyrighted for an initial period of 28 years from the year of publication (or, if unpublished, year of registration), and the copyright could be renewed for an additional 28 years. The process required the author/publisher to apply for copyright registration, and the renewal also was required to be applied for. The process was not automatic, and provided a possible 56 year period of copyright protection.

The Copyright Act was amended in 1976, largely I believe under pressure due to the threat of VCR and Betamax home movie recorders to the movie industry. No matter what the reason, the 1976 law and subsequent amendments have substantially changed the nature of the copyright process and periods. The requirement for overt renewal was also removed, so that works under an original 28-year copyright period would automatically be renewed even if the author/publisher took no steps to do so. This is important when researching the copyright status of a particular book, as the government files might not contain any renewal status because the renewal was not applied for BUT the renewal took place automatically anyway.

To cut to the chase, this website has a summary of the copyright periods for basic published works.

On that site, the following periods are summarized:
Copyright 01.jpg
Copyright 01.jpg (34.12 KiB) Viewed 15390 times
Which is further summarized in the Good News / Bad News:
Good News Bad News.jpg
Good News Bad News.jpg (41.66 KiB) Viewed 15390 times
(note: "PD" = "Public Domain")

There are many aspects of copyright law under consideration and debate, especially as regards works not generally considered commercially valuable. Of course, no publisher holding a copyright on a work is likely to be willing to see it turned into an easily distributed digital format even if the market for the book is long gone. An example of old college textbooks covering obsolete technology such as vacuum-tubes comes to mind. There will likely never again be college courses in Engineering teaching the theory and application of vacuum-tubes, yet many of these books contain information that should be preserved for those individuals who are interested in teaching themselves about such technology and many of the modern texts were published well into the late 1960s.

These books are not likely to ever be digitized by the publishers, as there is no real market (i.e. $$) and digitization efforts cost publishers money.

So in summary, distribution of copies of books printed after 1922 will likely violate copyright laws, and until the books fall into public domain or unless express permission has been obtained from the publisher/author such distribution can lead to serious legal problems.

Technically, making a copy of such a book even for your own personal library is illegal unless you personally own and keep the physical copy (at least, that is my understanding). And while it's unlikely that the Book Police will stage a raid on your house for doing so, it is certainly illegal to take such a copy and put it out on the internet even if you personally own the book - you risk not only personal liability but also getting the hosting websites in hot water!

I cannot say much more except that I believe preservation efforts for old books are an especially worthwhile effort. Forgotten old books disappear every day, hauled to landfills from old estates or destroyed in tragic accidents and fires. Some (if not all) of these books are irreplaceable. Even if the information in the books is obsolete, there is still value in preserving the records and techniques of bygone eras. Just look at the popularity of Civil War reenactments (or Renaissance Faires :) ) for examples of people interested in preserving the "old ways".

I hope others here can flesh out this discussion and correct any misunderstandings I have presented. I'm just an old book (and old-book!) reader and lover, but much like many of you I am very much interested in preserving even a small bit of what I can for others to access in the future.

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Re: Copyright Thoughts

Post by daniel_reetz »

Just so everyone here knows, I'm not able to comment on copyright, other than to state my personal opinion that it's dangerous, overreaching, and desperately needs reform.

It may be a surprise to some, but it's often better to be completely silent on topics like this because, especially in my position, it's possible to endanger the entire project with a simple offhand comment. Nothing I've ever said is legal advice and you shouldn't take it that way. People can discuss copyright here if they want, I won't stop them, but I can't participate. I haven't read everything you've written here with the attention it deserves, but we have also had some incorrect and potentially harmful legal interpretations posted here in the past, so I would caution anyone from taking anything on this forum as legal advice. Take the discussion here, rather, as a starting-off point to become as informed as possible on this unbelievably complicated and unclear topic.

For me, I'll stick to the fun part, and the part I understand, which is the technology. Incidentally, it's also where we good-brained folk can effect the greatest change.
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Re: Copyright Thoughts

Post by sam_brewer »

Completely understood, Daniel - and I do appreciate the dangers of "advice" on this topic. Thanks for your understanding - it is indeed a complex and sensitive area, and must be treated as such.

I also want to emphasize that nothing in my OP should be construed as competent advice, and the information contained in the post can be found in the government document attached to the post.
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Re: Copyright Thoughts

Post by Librum »

Let me preface this post by saying IANAL. (I Am Not A Lawyer)(pronounced I-Anal) ;) . I am a research librarian who often has to work in the international copyright framework, but/so please consider my comments as 'layman'.

The copyright issues are even more complex than most people realize. Mr Brewer is posting from a United States 'centric' position. This overlooks the international aspects. Many folks run afoul here, as ebooks are almost always international. Any residing on, or made available via the Internet, are automatically, in the eyes of the US and international laws, international. Often we have found materials that are 'public domain' here in the US, but not in some other countries. Very often. I can point a finger at a lot of materials, restored here, published and printed in the US, by a US entity, registered in the UK (maybe also in the US), that have ACTIVE UK copyright, but are considered public domain in the US due to age. Internationally, these are under copyright, and violation suitable. Said suit is rare, admittedly, but possible. Fortunately for us, we have the international legal resources, as some of our legal resources are in the UK, but I often shake my head at the errors made by US centrics. It is so bad that I sometimes think that copyright at national level is a joke.

If you do run afoul, internationally, then you have to educate a lawyer in the international aspects. That takes $$$, much more than most ebook makers can afford. But I can give two tips, or 'google bait's, to help educate your lawyer/barrister.

First is the 'Teach' act (expands US fair use of active copyright materials, primarily for educational purposes, but some 'gotcha's and loopholes are detailed in it.)(Also expands fair use in the international sense, i.e. using material that is NON US registered.)(An example is a work that is under active US copyright but long out of print, what restoration and use is permitted.)(Yes, restoration of such is possible!)(We restored the New Alchemists series this way. Later, the original publisher reprinted, but could not touch our restorations.)( will get you started).

Second is the Hathi Trust case. The Hathi Trust case is the one we use most, as it redefines what is public domain, in the international sense, how copyright registrars may interact, what protections are in place for a 'restorer', etc. ( will get you started).

The Hathi Trust basically said that copyright, with public domain and fair use, in the national/international arenas, is so complex that there is/was no way to comply. So they went their own way, setting up their own schema, breaking a lot of rules/regs/laws, nationally and internationally, and were suited for it. They won, setting legal precedence for US restoration libraries, like ourselves. It partially redefines the 'collection' copyright in the international arena, applicable in US courts. BUT, it may not be applicable in another national court, as not all nations have 'collection' copyright.

Again, IANAL, but our SOP is 1) using the Hathi Trust case guidelines, contact the ORIGINAL registrar of the work, and obtain a 'certificate of public domain'. $$$. 2) In each work, there is 'verified as public domain' language, 'restorer watermarking', and 'collection' copyright notice. 3) file the restored work, with markings, electronic AND print format, with the US registrar, under our 'collection' copyright. 4) If copyright is granted, then also file in the UK, under then UK's slightly different 'collection' copyright. The 'certificate' stands in US and International courts, and must be supported by all national registrars.

Recap: if the original copyright registrar says it is public domain, and you have the certificate, then ALL must honor.

Some notes:

'Unclaimed' (no copyright notice) and 'Claimed' (copyright notice, but never filed) copyrights, while valid in the US, generally have no validity in the international arenas. In the US, the ranking is 1) Unclaimed, 2) Claimed, 3) Filed. #2 trumps #1, and #3 trumps #2 in a US court. Many business entities use this to hi-jack employee's works, by filing, without knowledge of the producer.

Just because a restoration has been done, and the restorer has the certificate of public domain, if another 're-restores' then tries to state that such certificate exists, they have no defense in court. They must have an original certificate. This has tripped up some people. 'Re-touching' falls under this. To rephrase, somebody else may 'retouch' your work, creating a 'new' work, and you have no recourse, if they also have 'residence', see next paragraph.

Ever notice that the Internet Archive, Google Books, etc, always define where the original hard copy resides? Restoration of a public domain work, protected by a 'collection' copyright, by US law, must have repository of the original hard copy. Said original MUST be maintained. If the original is lost, then by the pre-Hathi case law, then the electronic work must be 'taken down'. A person/legal entity who makes such a restoration MUST maintain 'residence'. A lot of folks have run afoul this way, as said 'residence' must be the restorer (a lot of legal paper filings!), or from a library (with library stamps, etc, intact), legal documents repository, etc. The Hathi case reinforces this, but also allows a system by which a restorer may 'gift' said original to such a repository. Certificate of deposit with the copyright office will now satisfy this.

'Jobbers', people who sell collections of such restorations, may not be suited, in the US, if no copyright is 'claimed'. There has been international casework, but it is a patchwork of opposing opinions. If you look on eBay, for example, you will find many such collections. There is nothing against taking restored works and making such a collection, and the jobber does not have to state sources. But if the jobber tries to FILE a 'collection' copyright, the sources must be stated. If a jobber removes 'restorer watermarks', etc, then they may be suited, so have a care not to remove that Google/Internet Archive/etc marking.

With a hope that this keeps some people steer clear of these issues,

of the Librum.
"Ever wish to know what thy grandparents knew? Thee CAN!"
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