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Re: Copyright 1900 letter...

Dec 02, 1996 01:55 PM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins

>If a letter is found, for example, as an ancient document, and
>no copyright is found or known, then whether or not it is in the
>public domain a person may put a copyright notice on the media
>(book, email, etc.) in which it is published.  That is all that
>was done.  There was never any claim made to exclusive copyright
>for the letter.

I'm afraid that you have been misled again.  You may not put a
copyright notice on the "media" which a document "is published"
either.  You don't own the media, and you may not copyright what
is not your property.   It does not matter whether the document
is "ancient," even if you were the one who found it.  You may
copyright your translation of the document; You may copyright
your comments and annotations concerning the document; You may
copyright your paraphrasing of a document; Under certain
circumstances you might even be able to copyright how you
organized the fragments of a document as was done in recent legal
disputes concerning the Dead Sea scrolls.  But you may not put a
copyright notice on the document itself nor on the media.
     In the case of the 1900 letter, it is the *physical
property* of the Adyar Theosophical Society (but not its
intellectual property).  About sixty years ago C. Jinarajadasa
published a photographic copy of the letter in THE THEOSOPHIST,
but he had blocked out certain passages.  About nine years ago,
the ECLECTIC THEOSOPHIST published a transcription of the same
letter, and for the first time, included the missing portions.
This transcription has since been reproduced by several other
journals.  Neither the Adyar Theosophical Society nor Point Loma
Publications would have much of a case if they wanted to claim a
copyright to this letter.  Legally, the author of this letter
would be presumed dead, and no family members have come forward
to claim their rights to it.  Therefore the letter is in public

>Also, the procedure followed is concordant with Section 107
>(fair use) of U.S. Code Title 17 (copyright law).

Actually, the fair usage act does not apply here, because the
document is in public domain.  Anyone is free to reproduce this
     The fair usage act was formed for the benefit of researchers
and reviewers who are engaged in academic work.   Under this act,
one may cite or quote from copyrighted material, without prior
permission, for purposes of writing reviews and for quoting in
the course of writing original material.  But under no
circumstances does it give one a right to reproduce an entire
document for publication.  Republishing a copyrighted document is
called piracy, and I assure you that it is illegal.  If the 1900
letter had been copyrighted, you would have had committed an
illegal act by posting it here.  If it had been copyrighted, and
you wished to reproduce it, you would have been required to get
permission from the copyright owner.  If you have followed this
procedure, your notice would have read:

Copyright [year]  by [the name of the person or organization who
actually owns the copyright].
Reproduced with permission.

     Since the letter was in public domain, your only obligation
was to cite where you had copied the letter.  But to say that the
letter was "copyright" in "1900 and 1995"  means that you are
giving notice that you own the copyright.

I hope this helps

   |Jerry Hejka-Ekins,                      |
      |Member TI, TSA, TSP, ULT                |
         |Please reply to:   |
            |and CC to       |

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