Saturday, June 19, 2021

When Collective Works Are Made From the Public Domain

Speaking of the public domain, the Public Domain Review has an informative essay
(“The Mark of the Beast”) about the first anti-vaxxers
Dear Rich: I wish to reproduce photographs from a website. I want to use them in a book I've written. It is almost certain that any pre-existing copyright on these photos, all taken before 1963, has lapsed. The site itself is being deliberately obtuse about answering questions. How can I determine if I'm prevented from reproducing these photos by a "collective works" copyright?
If the photos are in the public domain and the website hasn’t substantially modified them, you are free to copy them. A collective works copyright doesn’t remove the photos from the public domain. It merely prevents you from copying the website’s original selection and arrangement of the photos. The keyword is “original” because copyright won’t shield collections of works selected by typical sorting criteria (Top Ten Lists, Greatest Hits, or alphabetization). If you don’t copy the selection and arrangement of the photos on the website, you should be fine.

Pre-1964 photos. We assume copyright lapsed because the owner of the photographs failed to renew copyright (a requirement for all works published from 1926 through 1963). If the photographs were first published within books, you can verify public domain status at Stanford’s Copyright Renewal Database.

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