Copyright for derivative work

I want to make available a collection of poems written by my great-uncle that are now in public domain.  I will add a Postscript with some information about my uncle and a section of Notes to explain some references in the poems.

I know that Lulu will reject the book if the metadata I enter for the project, the title page, and the copyright page don't all line up.  Would the following pass muster?
  • List my uncle and myself as two authors in the metadata
  • On the title page, list my uncle first; below that in smaller type, "Postscript and Notes by [me]"
  • For copyright, put "Postscript and Notes (c) 2018 by [me]."
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  • Skoob_ymSkoob_ym Librarian
    If the work is in the public domain, then you can legally publish it, and copyright will not be an issue.

    I do not represent Lulu, but I see no reason why your plan would not work.

    Now, if you intend to obtain copyright, I happen to know that in the US, registration of a copyright for material that is in the public domain is not possible, unless it is substantially changed, added to, or annotated. I am not a lawyer; this is not advice.

    For example, if you simply publish the poems, then you cannot register copyright on the poems themselves. However, if you published each poem with a preface noting the circumstances of the poem and its significance, or if you followed each poem with an original critique of the poem outlining the meaning, the significance, and the use of symbols within the poem, then the prefaces and/or critiques, being original material, can be copyrighted, implying a copyright of the whole work.

    So, in short, your method should work. You might wish to consult with our resident representative of Lulu, Paul, or you might wish to open a support request to confirm the feasibility of your plans.
  • I want to make available a collection of poems written by my great-uncle that are now in public domain. 

    In what way are they in public domain?

     I will add a Postscript with some information about my uncle and a section of Notes to explain some references in the poems.

    I know that Lulu will reject the book if the metadata I enter for the project, the title page, and the copyright page don't all line up.  Would the following pass muster?

    • List my uncle and myself as two authors in the metadata
    • On the title page, list my uncle first; below that in smaller type, "Postscript and Notes by [me]"
    • For copyright, put "Postscript and Notes (c) 2018 by [me]."

    The actual book can be copyright. The Cover (Marketing Image) and any added content that is not in the public domain, such as Preface etc. As long as you make it clear that the main contents are public domain and who wrote it.

    You cannot copyright things that are in the public domain, but as I say, you as the creator of the book can copyright the book, so only your copyright is required.

    BTW. Books do not have to be Copyright. That's the choice of the creator.

    How Do
  • Skoob_ym, my understanding of the issues agrees with what you wrote.  I do not wish to (nor can I) claim copyright on my great-uncle's poems, only on the postscript and notes that are my own work.

    As to Kevin's questions: my uncle had the poems privately printed with a copyright date of 1947.  According to a search in the copyright office, it was not renewed as was required at that time after the initial 25 year period expired.  (Even if it had been, the renewal would have expired by now.)

    So putting "Copyright (c) 2018 by [me]" on the copyright page copyrights the book but doesn't give anyone the idea that I am claiming copyright on the poems themselves?  The Postscript explains clearly when the poems were written and so forth.  I don't care about cover design or anything else.
  • Ron MillerRon Miller Bibliophile
    I am not an intellectual rights attorney, so take my advice for what it is worth.

    Since your uncle's poems would seem to be in the public domain (you having done the research on that), all you can copyright is the new material you have added. So your copyright notice should read something like "Postscript and notes (c) 2018 by You."


  • Skoob_ymSkoob_ym Librarian
    One small note here: I have assumed that you have permission to publish the work, that is, that either your Great-uncle has given explicit permission (if he is still alive) or that it is at least a fair consensus within your family that you are doing no injury to him or his heirs if he has passed. This is not a legal requirement, but it is a moral requirement.

    As an example, if your uncle had written lengthy poems extolling the virtues of the Cutlerite faith (to pick a miniscule sect as an example), for example, but in later life had repudiated that faith, and vehemently wished not to be associated with it (a possible motive for not renewing copyright) then it would be immoral to publish the work without at least a clear statement of his later repudiation. That is, if the publication might cause his memory to be tarnished in some way, or if it would cause embarrassment or ridicule upon his direct heirs, then it would be immoral to publish it.

    Also, if he is alive and wishes you not to, then you morally must not do so.
  • Don't copyrights last 75 years? Not 71.
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  • Ron MillerRon Miller Bibliophile
    Don't copyrights last 75 years? Not 71.
    https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-duration.html#duration
  • SphinxCameronSphinxCameron Southern Escarpment Hill Country Librarian
    Copyright duration depends on the where the registration occurred.

    In general for literary works it's either 'life + 50 years' or 'life + 70 years'.

    One short duration is in Yemen, 'life + 30 years', while in Venezuela it's 'life + 60 years'. The longest duration appears to be Mexico with 'life + 100 years'.

    There are a handful of countries where it's 'life + 75 years' or a different variant term.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries'_copyright_lengths
    This is why certain works are public domain in one country while not in others.
  • A newly published book of out of copyright material is indeed copyrighted, morally at least, straightaway - but as others have said - the new book not the reused works. This is then firmed up with a copyright statement for the new book. Plus, although this is the most difficult thing to be proved - any republishing of any out of copyright book, legally needs to be created sourcing an original / out of copyright edition. You cannot, or should not to be more accurate, just go and get an Oliver Twist or Sherlock Holmes or whichever, new from a bookshop, and then scan or OCR the pages for your edition, you would be violating the copyright of the publisher who has created this new edition if you did do so. Hard to prove and it goes on all the time, but legally, it is wrong. It doesn't apply to your book of course, but worth knowing if you decide to republish other out of copyright works.
  • SphinxCameronSphinxCameron Southern Escarpment Hill Country Librarian
    There are also certain cases of 'Perpetual Copyright' that while finite, may extend far longer than would otherwise be normal.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual_copyright

  • Well, it is in the end a legal thing, and if city hall or wherever says something's still in copyright, then it's still in copyright. These are the exceptions though.

  • The republishing of out of copyright material does go on, and as far as I know it's not illegal to copy the text even from a copyright book. After all, that is more or less what they may have done in principle. It's the other way around, the book may be copyright, but the out of copyright reproduced text is not. Although Amazon, and Lulu too, disallowed such self-published books because there were 1000s all of the same stories. Project Gutenberg still carries 56,000 though, but as ebooks. So do many other sites.
    How Do
  • Skoob_ymSkoob_ym Librarian
    To address the first issue, namely, whether a book can see copyright expire within 71 years vice 75, or the author's life plus seventy, let me first say that I am not a lawyer, and that this is not advice.

    It is my understanding that the copyright extension acts of 1976 and 1998 applied themselves exclusively to books then under copyright and to be later created under copyright, thus any book which had seen its copyright expire without extension (as the OP states of his great-uncle's work) would NOT be covered by the extension. Having once passed into the public domain, it could not then be remanded to copyright.

    The reasons for this are manifold: First in my mind is that a right having passed to the people may not be taken away. The principle at hand is the constitutional prohibition of ex post facto laws, and a law creating a copyright for a previously free work would fall within that prohibition, or so it seems to me. Second is the impossible burden to be placed upon the holder of a copyright once lapsed and then restored: should a violating work be found, it would be impossible to state with certainty that the copy was not made within the window of opportunity afforded by the lapse. Many other conundrums follow thereafter.

    So it follows that a lapse of copyright, however brief, would explain the short duration despite modern laws. It is also possible that the original writer repudiated the copyright, as is often done today through GPL* and copyleft arrangements.

    Okay, that gets today's nerdly rant completed for me. Next?
    ______________________________
    * GPL == GNU ** Public License
    ** GNU == GNU's Not Unix
  • SphinxCameronSphinxCameron Southern Escarpment Hill Country Librarian
    Weren't the origins of copyright more about monopolies and censorship rather than the author's right to profit from work done by his / her hand?
  • Weren't the origins of copyright more about monopolies and censorship rather than the author's right to profit from work done by his / her hand?

    Sort of. But also the author's or even just a publisher's right, usually only a publisher's (or printers because they were usually one and the same) rights to a monopoly on a book that they originated, and rightly so. I am not sure how censorship enters in to it, but many protected early books were of a religious nature and they only wanted what they thought printed. I do think that even before Copyright laws as we know them existed the protectionism for some books still existed and even resulted in a real swords-out fight. There was a sort of 'official' copyright brought about around 1710, but only for government published books. It's not hard to understand why because it was incredibly complex and expensive to print early books. That may seem  a great way of stopping anyone copying a book, seeing as printing presses were at first so rare, but it originally included not allowing the printed books to be copied out by hand. Or even books written by hand in the first place. It was at times a "For Your Eyes Only" thing. "Eat The Parchment After Reading."

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  • Skoob_ymSkoob_ym Librarian
    At one point in publishing history, only the publisher ever made any money at all. The author got a pittance in royalties, and the publisher maintained the copyright. So yes, it was once an issue of corporate greed. Two or three families held "rights" to nearly everything ever written.

    The Statute of Ann was the first step in establishing that copyrights existed, belonged to the author, and expired at a set time. From there, it progressed to the modern day. The most recent revisions to copyright law were pushed through by artists and creators of intellectual property.
  • Skoob_ymSkoob_ym Librarian
    "I am not sure how censorship enters in to it, but many protected early books were of a religious nature and they only wanted what they thought printed."

    Kevin, I'm glad to see you admit that there's something you don't know. We might make a good fellow out of you yet. In the times when Church and State were more dangerously entwined, books to be printed within Catholic-dominated nations required "Imprimatur" or permission to be printed. This was not a copyright per se: No ownership of the work was implied. The Imprimatur merely meant that they were not considered heretical or likely to offend the morals.

    Not receiving imprimatur would be similar, today, to having a book "banned in Boston" or given an MPAA rating of NC-17. Instead of printing as planned, the publishers would simply change venues (Holland, for example, or France) and proceed. Then as now, to have a book banned probably guaranteed its commercial success.

  • Ron MillerRon Miller Bibliophile
    edited February 15
    A newly published book of out of copyright material is indeed copyrighted, morally at least, straightaway - but as others have said - the new book not the reused works. This is then firmed up with a copyright statement for the new book. Plus, although this is the most difficult thing to be proved - any republishing of any out of copyright book, legally needs to be created sourcing an original / out of copyright edition. You cannot, or should not to be more accurate, just go and get an Oliver Twist or Sherlock Holmes or whichever, new from a bookshop, and then scan or OCR the pages for your edition, you would be violating the copyright of the publisher who has created this new edition if you did do so. Hard to prove and it goes on all the time, but legally, it is wrong. It doesn't apply to your book of course, but worth knowing if you decide to republish other out of copyright works.


    I’m not sure what the basis is for these ideas, but in the US, at least, once a work is in the public domain it cannot be copyrighted. If you were to make any substantial changes to the book, however...editing, revising, abridging, etc...you may be able to copyright that new version. Or if you were to add annotations, a preface, afterword or appendices, you could copyright that new material.

    This holds true even if a traditional commercial publisher were to reprint, say, Oliver Twist. So long as every word was the same as in the original they could not claim a copyright to it. You cannot copyright a book per se, only the contents. And if no changes have been made to a public domain work it cannot be copyrighted, no matter who publishes it. That text is free for anyone to copy and use. That’s what “public domain” means. For this reason there are countless editions of Dickens’ work in print, all with identical texts, all of which could easily have been scanned from one another.
  • Kevin, I'm glad to see you admit that there's something you don't know. We might make a good fellow out of you yet.

    You ignored the bit where I said I was not at all sure why you are not fully correct? You seem to forget we are sat on the internet where it's so easy to instantly look stuff up.

    In the times when Church and State were more dangerously entwined, books to be printed within Catholic-dominated nations required "Imprimatur" or permission to be printed.

    Yes. I did say that, but I did not point fingers at specific religions.

     This was not a copyright per se: No ownership of the work was implied.

    Indeed it was. But in very early days, in the days before printing, it was encourage for stuff to be spread by hand-copying. But only by those allowed the right. The copyright. The right to copy. But you also have to remember that the general populace could neither read or write, so there was really little danger of such infringement.

     The Imprimatur merely meant that they were not considered heretical or likely to offend the morals.

    Which religious publications where hardly likely to do. Don't forget how old religious texts are.

    Not receiving imprimatur would be similar, today, to having a book "banned in Boston" or given an MPAA rating of NC-17. Instead of printing as planned, the publishers would simply change venues (Holland, for example, or France) and proceed. Then as now, to have a book banned probably guaranteed its commercial success.

    You are talking of relatively recent things.

    How Do
  • A newly published book of out of copyright material is indeed copyrighted, morally at least,

    Very true. But some do not know what copyright means, and the ability to self-publish for peanuts has proven that some  do not care what it means.

     straightaway - but as others have said - the new book not the reused works. This is then firmed up with a copyright statement for the new book. Plus, although this is the most difficult thing to be proved - any republishing of any out of copyright book, legally needs to be created sourcing an original / out of copyright edition. You cannot, or should not to be more accurate, just go and get an Oliver Twist or Sherlock Holmes or whichever, new from a bookshop, and then scan or OCR the pages for your edition, you would be violating the copyright of the publisher who has created this new edition if you did do so. Hard to prove and it goes on all the time, but legally, it is wrong. It doesn't apply to your book of course, but worth knowing if you decide to republish other out of copyright works.

    Perhaps almost impossible to prove, unless the scanned book has had the original text changed in some small way, and the person scanning the pages does not realise or notice.


    I’m not sure what the basis is for these ideas, but in the US, at least, once a work is in the public domain it cannot be copyrighted.

    I suppose that is the meaning of Public Domain. But it is really only in PD if it is placed there, such as on-line. If it's just some out of copyright manuscript discovered in a draw somewhere, it's not really PD.

     If you were to make any substantial changes to the book, however...editing, revising, abridging, etc...you may be able to copyright that new version.

    Some famous writers take old stories and 'adjust' them, make them their own, using the bare bones of the original. They often challenge each other to do it. Some end up published. Some even made in to films.

    Or if you were to add annotations, a preface, afterword or appendices, you could copyright that new material.

    Yup.

    This holds true even if a traditional commercial publisher were to reprint, say, Oliver Twist. So long as every word was the same as in the original they could not claim a copyright to it. You cannot copyright a book per se, only the contents. And if no changes have been made to a public domain work it cannot be copyrighted, no matter who publishes it. That text is free for anyone to copy and use. That’s what “public domain” means. For this reason there are countless editions of Dickens’ work in print, all with identical texts, all of which could easily have been scanned from one another.

    Unfortunately true, and far too easy to do now.

    How Do
  • Ron MillerRon Miller Bibliophile


    I’m not sure what the basis is for these ideas, but in the US, at least, once a work is in the public domain it cannot be copyrighted.

    I suppose that is the meaning of Public Domain. But it is really only in PD if it is placed there, such as on-line. If it's just some out of copyright manuscript discovered in a draw somewhere, it's not really PD.

    I'm not really sure what you mean by this, but, I find, the US Copyright Office is also a little unclear. According to it all works published in the United States before January 1, 1923, are in the public domain. But at the same time it also says The law automatically gives federal copyright protection to works that were created but neither published nor registered before January 1, 1978. The problem I see is that the first statement mentions only that the work is "published," which has a pretty strict definition (it needs to have been distributed in some form), but the second statement refers specifically to works that were "created but neither published nor registered." It goes on to say that The duration of copyright in these works is generally computed the same way as for works created on or after January 1, 1978: life plus 70 years or 95 or 120 years, depending on the nature of authorship. However, all works in this category are guaranteed at least 25 years of statutory protection. So my guess would be that even if the author of that old diary you find in a drawer is dead you should probably seek out their descendants, if any. 

    Be interesting to have someone expert in intellectual property law weigh in on this.

     If you were to make any substantial changes to the book, however...editing, revising, abridging, etc...you may be able to copyright that new version.

    Some famous writers take old stories and 'adjust' them, make them their own, using the bare bones of the original. They often challenge each other to do it. Some end up published. Some even made in to films.

    Which they are perfectly free to do with public domain materials.

    Or if you were to add annotations, a preface, afterword or appendices, you could copyright that new material.

    Yup.

    This holds true even if a traditional commercial publisher were to reprint, say, Oliver Twist. So long as every word was the same as in the original they could not claim a copyright to it. You cannot copyright a book per se, only the contents. And if no changes have been made to a public domain work it cannot be copyrighted, no matter who publishes it. That text is free for anyone to copy and use. That’s what “public domain” means. For this reason there are countless editions of Dickens’ work in print, all with identical texts, all of which could easily have been scanned from one another.

    Unfortunately true, and far too easy to do now.

    I can't even imagine how many different editions of PD classics are out there. I may not even want to know.


  • SphinxCameronSphinxCameron Southern Escarpment Hill Country Librarian
    Ron,

    Regarding those older 'gray area works' neither published nor registered, I think your understanding of the US copyright law version [among others] is correct -- best to seek permission before running to publish with an old diary.
  • If it's just some out of copyright manuscript discovered in a draw somewhere, it's not really PD.

    I'm not really sure what you mean by this,

    Public Domain usually refers to free media posted on line. If something has never been published, anywhere or any how, then it is not really PD. But that does not mean there's no copyright on it, because copyright is worldwide automatic as soon as the 'media' becomes tangible, as in the written word. But if it any copyright at all has run out on it, then it could be released in to PD and copied willy-nilly. As per long lost Shakespeare stuff.

     but, I find, the US Copyright Office is also a little unclear.

    One has to wonder if that's not deliberate, so that people have to employ copyright lawyers, who I have discovered often have no more idea than those paying them! I have had those "desist" sort of letters from lawyers that were little more than bluff, or even ignorance.

     According to it all works published in the United States before January 1, 1923, are in the public domain. But at the same time it also says The law automatically gives federal copyright protection to works that were created but neither published nor registered before January 1, 1978. The problem I see is that the first statement mentions only that the work is "published," which has a pretty strict definition (it needs to have been distributed in some form), but the second statement refers specifically to works that were "created but neither published nor registered."

    By some sort of old agreement, there's an automatic worldwide copyright applied to anything made tangible, published or not. Just like that typed manuscript placed in a draw, and even as a file on a PC, and perhaps forgotten, or awaiting uploading to Lulu. This >> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_copyright_treaties  starts off a bit contradictory, but it does mention two agreements. How long a copyright lasts is different for most countries, though.

     It goes on to say that The duration of copyright in these works is generally computed the same way as for works created on or after January 1, 1978: life plus 70 years or 95 or 120 years, depending on the nature of authorship. However, all works in this category are guaranteed at least 25 years of statutory protection. So my guess would be that even if the author of that old diary you find in a drawer is dead you should probably seek out their descendants, if any. 

    Always the best advice. Just in case. (An underline tool would be handy in these posts!)

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  • The US does have copyright rules that are unlike many countries. But common-sense should rule all the same.
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  • Ron MillerRon Miller Bibliophile
    By treaty, the US respects the copyright laws of other countries.
  • SphinxCameronSphinxCameron Southern Escarpment Hill Country Librarian
    Very true, though that fact doesn't fit the 'Buckaroo Wild West' image many people in other countries have of the US.
    By treaty, the US respects the copyright laws of other countries.

  • By treaty, the US respects the copyright laws of other countries

    Indeed, because it's actually part of the world ...

    but what I meant is that I believe the USA is the only country where a copyright has to be officially registered before court action can be taken over infringement of it.

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  • SphinxCameronSphinxCameron Southern Escarpment Hill Country Librarian
    http://www.britishcopyright.org/information/general/registration-copyright-protected-works/

    It would appear it can be harder to prove copyright infringement in countries that have no copyright registration office.
  • That's not an official site, and the first advice offered is out of date and now considered to be no longer valid. But as long as you can prove you were the original creator, which is not all that easy, then you may have a case. But in all countries, regardless of if your work is a registered copyright or not, one still has to be able to afford a lawyer and a court case. That is often the bug bare, unless you are a cash-rich writer and also have the advantage of a cash-rich publishing house to pay for such actions. Also, even though many countries are signed up to the world-wide copyright agreement, some countries ride roughshod over it and there's little can be done about it. As one of my sons discovered when he paid £500 for a series boxset from e-bay (using a debit card), that turned out to be a Chinese rip-off. The copyright owners more or less just shrugged, because they could do nothing about it.
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  • Skoob_ymSkoob_ym Librarian

    By treaty, the US respects the copyright laws of other countries

    Indeed, because it's actually part of the world ...

    but what I meant is that I believe the USA is the only country where a copyright has to be officially registered before court action can be taken over infringement of it.

    So how would that work, if I were to sue you for copyright violations, without having registered my work? Suppose that I wrote a story that included a lengthy passage about kangaroos, and I later discovered a nearly identical passage in your work. How would I prove that I wrote mine first? Or at all?

    For that matter, what would prevent me from lifting a lengthy passage from your work, back-dating a  "manuscript" copy, and then suing you on an entirely spurious claim of a copyright violation?
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