U.S. Copyright and Genealogy



Copyright "Facts"

Here are a few copyright law "facts."

1. All U.S. works PUBLISHED before 1923 are in the public domain.

2. Copyright experts estimate that 85% of all U.S. works published between 1923 and 1963 are now in the public domain.

3. All facts and ideas are in the public domain.

4. There are no official "copyright cops."  However, there are many self-appointed ones who fuss about sharing of materials.

5. Material published before 3/1/89 without a valid copyright notice is in the public domain. (There are some exceptions to this, but it is my conviction that very few genealogy works would qualify.)

6. A compilation of facts is protected by copyright only to the extent that the selection of the material and the arrangement of the material is ORIGINAL. (A compilation of ALL of the headstone inscriptions for a cemetery does not meet the originality requirement for selection of material.)

7. Copyright protection in a work does not extend to any pre-existing material. 

8. The amount of time and effort put into a work has no bearing on the copyright status of a work.

9. Copyright protects those portions of a work that are original, that were created.

10. Works published in other countries are protected in the United States as though the works were published in the United States.

11. Copyright protection for a work begins when the work is fixed in some sort of "tangible form." This included writing, typing to paper, and saving it on a computer.

12. A copyright notice is no longer required for protection.

13. E-mail is copyrighted as soon as it is sent or saved.

14. There are many erroneous claims on internet web-pages about what is copyrighted.

15. There is a lot of copyright infringement on the internet.

16. There is significantly less infringement on genealogical web sites and mailing lists primarily because we deal with fact based material and old material where there is no copyright, the copyright has lapsed, or the material was published without a copyright notice.

17. U.S government works cannot be copyrighted.

18. U.S. government works may contain material that is copyrighted by others.

19. The use of preexisting material in a work does not change the copyright status of the preexisting material. If it was copyrighted, it still is. If it was in the public domain, it still is.

20. Copyright infringement is almost always a civil rather than a criminal matter.

I wrote the above 20 copyright "facts" off the cuff, without referring to any source other than my own memory.  The truth of the matter is that the "facts" I've written about are more than just facts.  In this instance, the bare facts are clothed in a considerable amount of original expression, which is protected by copyright law..

The arrangement of words used to express the "facts" is original text created by me as I typed this message. Even though someone else may sit down to do this same thing and come up with something very similar on this fact based topic, my original expression was protected as soon as I clicked on the "send" icon.

The material on this page was originally posted to the Copyright-L mailing list on RootsWeb.  Prior to publishing it on this web page, it was edited somewhat.




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