Friday, April 23, 2010

Copyright on typed transcripts

Dear Rich: I saw your post on trial transcripts. If I order a transcript and pay a lot for it, can I then post it on the Web? The content is public domain, but I wonder if the reporter gets copyright protection for typing it all up. (If so, then I could freely retype the transcript, I suppose, and then post it?) Copyright is not awarded simply for typing the work (and it's also not affected by how much you pay for the transcript). Copyright is typically awarded to the party who first fixes the work. Technically, that would be the court reporter, but we previously noted, at least one case has held that court reporters are not authors of courtroom testimony because the mechanical process of transcribing does not demonstrate sufficient originality.
What kinds of problems can you get into by posting the transcript on the web? The Dear Rich Staff doubts whether you'll get hassled over copyright infringement if you post the transcript. You may run into other issues, however. Did your purchase agreement for the transcript include any sort of license requirements? Read it before posting to be sure you're not violating that. You may also want to review the contents of the transcript to be sure you're not violating anyone's privacy -- for example, the publication of a crime victim's address or phone number. Similarly, we imagine it's possible the transcript may include libelous material -- for example, if a witness perjures himself and makes an untrue statement about one of the parties. The republication of that outside of court by a third-party may trigger a claim of defamation.