Microfilm of 19th Century Newspapers
- August 11, 2008 @ 11:02amSweet Briar College says:A faculty member is working on a guide and would like to put digitized articles from 19th century newspapers on it. Would she ask for permission from the company or institution producing the microfilm?
- August 11, 2008 @ 5:58pmksmith says:Only if the microfilming company or the institution contributed original expression. Simply filming a public domain text does not create any copyrights for either entity. One cannot "earn" a copyright in the US merely through "sweat of the brow."
- August 14, 2008 @ 6:14pmFreya Anderson says:I agree with ksmith that microfilming lacks sufficient originality for copyright protection, so the microfilmed public domain newspapers should be fine to use. However, my understanding is that at least some large microfilming companies interpret the law differently, and do assert copyright. Personally, I think that they're wrong, but I think it's something to be aware of.
- August 20, 2008 @ 9:58amksmith says:A microfilm company could, of course, claim such a copyright, although it is hard to see what provision of the law they would be "interpreting." Likewise, I can claim ownership of the Brooklyn Bridge, and, if I can find someone gullible enough to buy it from me, I will be guilty of fraud. A company that tried to enforce a bogus copyright claim would likely be guilty of copyright misuse, which is an equitable defense to an action for infringement. But such claims are not made as serious grounds for litigation, they are made for their chilling effect -- to prevent people from doing perfectly legal things and to demand an unnecessary payment for those uses.
A parallel situation would be a reprint edition of Milton's "Paradise Lost." Simply reprinting the text does not give the new publisher any copyright in the text of the poem, only in whatever new material -- notes, introductions and commentary, for example -- is added. Microfilming a 19th century newspaper is a similar act of republication of a public domain work, and its failure to create a new copyright in the old work is, it seems to me, well settled law.
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