Friday, June 7, 2013
Copying Dragnet: Risk v. Public Domain
Proving publication ... Steve Fishman, author of The Public Domain (of which we are the editors) does recommend a conservative course of action when using TV series from the 1950s and 1960s. That view is based on the confusion as to whether syndicating television shows is a "publication," triggering the renewal requirement. Two courts have ruled that syndication agreements where there is no copying does not amount to publication. (Broadcasting the original shows is not considered publication.) Fishman writes that "[T]he riskier course of action is to rely on the assumption that programs syndicated in 1964 and earlier have been published for copyright purposes. Therefore, if they were syndicated before 1964, they had to be renewed 28 years later or they entered the public domain."
That Said Dept. We respond to a lot of queries regarding the public domain and often we respond based on a risk analysis -- how likely it is that we think the reader will run into a problem. We believe these Dragnet episodes fall in a middle-world between public domain and copyright-protected -- a place where orphaned works live or where rights are not clear, and as a result, where owners don't appear to enforce copyright claims. We must add that the fact that many people distribute these episodes without apparent consequence is not a guarantee of future behavior (nor can we comment on the moral consequences of these uses) but the risk of copying the Internet Archive episodes or those duplicated by public domain vendors seems substantially lower than copying those episodes legitimately licensed by the copyright owner.