Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The British Library Has Lost its Charm

British Library London" by Jack1956
Dear Rich: I ordered some public domain works from the British Library (assume they are absolutely, without question public domain--written in 1800s), and the British Library people say: "Here are your copies, but you can't copy them further, because, by copying them we, British Library, acquired a new copyright on them." Is this right? Can they have a copyright on photocopies of public domain works?
We're not familiar with British copyright law but, under U.S. law, creating a "slavish reproduction" of a public domain work doesn't create a new copyright. So, under U.S. copyright law, you're free to copy the public domain work. There may be a contractual prohibition on you copying the materials if you signed a license agreement with the British Library. That's a murky area and courts have sometimes ruled that the license trumps copyright.We wrote more about these issues in a previous post. In any case, this seems like a tough one for the library to enforce.