Copyrighting public domain text?

by lilam
8 replies
Hello Warriors,

If someone takes a text that is in the public domain and formats it by creating jpeg files (making each page into a jpeg file), can he claim copyright ownership of the resulting images?

I would appreciate any insights you may have about this.
#copyrighting #domain #public #text
  • Profile picture of the author Donald77
    The "media" is irrelevant, it's the content that is copyrighted
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  • Profile picture of the author lilam
    Thanks Donald,
    But wouldn't the creative contribution involved in placing the text in image files (with an original layout, say) allow for copyright protection in the same way that various "editions" of a public domain text would? If so, then text itself remains public domain, but the image files themselves can't be used without permission.
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  • Profile picture of the author tj
    No. You cannot claim copyright on it because it is not different enough from the source.

    Timo
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  • I'm not sure about the method you're talking about in particular, but these guys got copyrights utilizing public domain works and made a fortune:

    Great Illustrated Classics by Baronet Books
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    • Profile picture of the author Drez
      My understanding is that you can copy a derivative work of a public domain item.

      For example: Let's say you made a movie based on a public domain book. You would have copyright protection of your derivative work (the movie).

      There are some notable examples where copyrights on an original text expired - but those on the derivative works remain in force.

      If you JUST reformatted a public domain text - possibly - you could copyright the FORMAT. (I've actually seen works that say something like "design copyright")

      Of course, as always, you should get the advice of an Intellectual Property lawyer who is qualified in this area.
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  • Profile picture of the author Dan C. Rinnert
    Originally Posted by lilam View Post

    If someone takes a text that is in the public domain and formats it by creating jpeg files (making each page into a jpeg file), can he claim copyright ownership of the resulting images?
    Depends.

    Are you merely scanning them in, or are you putting creative effort into the work?

    If you are just scanning them as-is, your copyright claim would probably not hold up in court because you haven't put sufficient creative effort into the work to merit copyright protection.

    If you are doing something creative, such as adding your own imagery and fancy borders and formatting the text to fit a certain way, then you can claim copyright on the new creative work that you've done. So, no one could take your version of the work and copy it.

    The text itself would remain in the public domain, unless you have edited and changed the text sufficiently to merit copyright protection as a derivative work.

    So, let's say you take a public domain poem about a farm, and you create a graphic with a farm photo or illustration you took or created, and you overlay the poem on the image and put a fancy border around it to create a frameable piece of art.

    In that case, your fancy border and your farm image can be protected by copyright. The poem itself, however, remains public domain.

    However, if you scan in a public domain poem that already has a farm scene, and you try to claim a copyright on the scanned image, it's unlikely that you would win in court if you ever pursued someone for using your scanned image instead of scanning their own.

    Mind you, of course, I am not a lawyer.
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    • Profile picture of the author lilam
      Thanks everyone!
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  • Profile picture of the author SeanLee
    You cannot claim copyright on it because it is not different enough from the source.

    I guess it's like the Google slap on duplicate content : if your work is too much derivated from a copyrighted work, then you'll get slapped by copyright law, right ?
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