Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Are Transcriptions of Public Domain Docs in the PD?

Dear Rich: Are typed transcriptions of handwritten public domain documents (such as the Declaration of Independence) in the public domain? Yes. In a district court case, a company copied a museum's photographic reproduction of a public domain painting. The court refused to stop the "slavish" copying of a public domain work because the copy lacked sufficient originality. In another case, the Supreme Court refused to protect a database of public domain data because the organization of the database also lacked sufficient originality. We believe that the same rules would apply to transcription of public domain documents. Typing up the words (without adding anything original) may involve skill and "sweat of the brow" but it does not provide sufficient originality to remove the work from the public domain. Even the use of a creative typeface is unlikely to trigger protection as copyright does not protect the appearance of type.
Speaking of the Declaration of Independence and Typefaces ... Who knew that one man's signature would inspire font collections and eventually become the registered trademark for a financial institution.