Friday, 11 April 2014


I have been asked by a regular reader about copyright issues around some of the old newspaper publications that I have reproduced. That immediately took me back to my previous life working in academia. Copyright is a difficult thing to understand and to comply with. In the main because different countries have different rules or publish different interpretation guidelines. Your local rules and the rules of the country of publication as well as the date of publication need to be taken into consideration. 

Copyright in this instance applies only to literary work, contrary to popular belief it cannot apply to something as intangible as an idea. That's the role of the patent office. Many authors work is published on the Internet, and while the work may be publicly accessible, it is certainly not in the public domain.
Periodically copyright rules are updated - in the main to reflect the changes taking place in the way that we publish materials. Recently in terms of publication we have moved away from books to ebooks and from letters to emails.  In other words electronic digital publications and communications. Now we spend time on web pages rather than newsprint. However, for most of the older original print materials - the copyright rules in place at the time of publication are what applies.  Now we are into the digital age a new set of copyright rules and guidelines have been created.

The rules of copyright are the most misunderstood rules and regulations imaginable. Take this sentence. 'The rules of copyright are the most misunderstood rules and regulations imaginable.' I wrote the words. So these words could be copyright to me as the author for the next 25, 28, 67 or 95 years. Well no, the same words and phrases will have been reused many times in many thousands of different publications. So copyright applies in our case to a recognisable 'literary work.' A book for instance would constitute a work. A blog posting made up of sentences and paragraphs could also be a copyright piece of work.
Then we come to what actually constitutes publication.  
If I create a piece of text and then email it to a friend. Is that text then copyright. The answer is yes, I still retain copyright of the work which I have shared with my friend. However, the work is unpublished in the traditional sense. Now the content of the email would need to be tested. 
How many times have you had an email arrive with a 'copyright notice' attached at the bottom which is not needed as copyright is implicit anyway. Then there is also a disclaimer that says the opinion expressed does not necessarily agree with the senders employer.
There are billions of potential copyright infringements that take place every day of every year. However, the infringement occurs only when the copyright holder or owner makes a complaint. Complaints by a third party cannot be made without the prior written consent and agreement of the copyright holder or owner.
Then the law would then test how, when and where the text was created. Including the method of reuse, any pecuniary gain,  has copyright been asserted, does the assertion exceed the limitations of copyright. Do any of the copyright exclusions apply as well as a plethora of other issues. The law of copyright has been tested many times. Not always to the benefit of the author. Especially if the author can be seen as benefiting in some way. The water can become much more muddy when words used as trademarks get involved. 
I remember as a student, being asked to discuss the following question. Intellectual copyright always belongs in the first instance to the author or creator, but may be transferred to another party by explicit agreement. If an author dies intestate before publication of a book that he or she has created. Then a relative (who has not been granted by the deceased an explicit copyright agreement) of the deceased author, goes ahead and publishes the work. Who owns the copyright?
Postings on my blog have no pecuniary advantage. It actually costs me to organise, maintain and run the blog. The blog is run only for my own pleasure and carries no form of revenue raising advertising. As far as possible, I will give one or more of the following acknowledgement. The name of the author. The publication date and name of the publication. Therefore my blog conforms with the ‘fair dealing' guidelines.

The basic rules are:

  • The duration of copyright varies according to the work involved. For literary works it is 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies.
  • If there is more than one author it will be 70 years from the death of the last remaining author.
  • For typographical arrangements the copyright duration is 25 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was first published with that appearance.
  • It is important to note that whilst the underlying work itself might be out of copyright, if a new edition is set and printed or additional text such as an introduction is added these new elements (but only the new elements) will attract their own copyright protection.

In addition to the above, there exists a group of additional exemptions which fall within the scope of ‘fair dealing'.

The fair dealing guidelines.

  • Material reproduced for the purposes of non-commercial research or private study.
  • Material reproduced for the purposes for criticism or review.
  • Material reproduced for the purposes for the reporting of current events.

If material is reproduced for these purposes, provided it is genuinely and fairly used for the stated purpose, and is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement, it may be considered fair dealing and thus exempt from clearance. However, the test is subjective and will depend on the circumstances of each case.

Other broader copyright conditions that may apply.
  • Published before 1923 - now in public domain.
  • Published from 1923 to 1963 - If the item has not been renewed, it is now in the public domain. 
  • Published from 1923 to 1963 - When published with no notice - now in public domain.
    Created before 1/1/1978 but not published - copyright notice is irrelevant.
  • Published from 1923 to 1963 and when published with a copyright notice © or "Copyright {dates} by {author/owner}" then the copyright protection lasts 28 years. However copyright could be renewed for an additional 67 years for a total of 95 years. 

  • Published from 1964 to 1977 - When published with notice - copyright protection lasts 28 years for first term. Automatic extension of 67 years for second term for a total of 95 years.
  • Created and published before 1/1/1978 copyright protection lasts for the life of author and 70 years or 31/12/2002, whichever is greater.
  • Created before 1/1/1978 and published between 1/1/1978 and 31/12/2002 - a copyright notice is irrelevant - copyright protection lasts the life of author and 70 years or 31/12/2047, whichever is greater
  • Created 1/1/1978 or after - When work is fixed in tangible medium of expression - a copyright notice is irrelevant - copyright protection lasts for the life of author and 70 years based on the the longest living author if jointly created or if work of corporate authorship, works for hire, or anonymous and pseudonymous works, the shorter of 95 years from publication, or 120 years from creation.

To muddy the copyright water even blacker than it already is, there are also the academic 'fair use' guidelines. Having worked in academia for 25 years. Some of the materials I use were gathered for my own academic purposes. Virtually all copyright legislation provides for reasonable "fair use" of copyrighted material under certain circumstances, without needing to obtain permission from the copyright owner or being liable for royalty payments. 
Non disclosure agreements are now often preferred over copyright because they will leave less wriggle room especially when sharing data that has some commercial confidentiality about the information.  The data protection act can also create additional difficulties. One thing I have learned about copyright issues - is each item has to be judged upon its own merit.

The one issue I have not touched upon is plagiarism - Which contrary to popular belief is in the main an academic issue only. Plagiarism is not a crime, but in academia it is an ethical offence. Plagiarism is considered to be an academic dishonesty and a breach of ethics. 

Lastly, there are the 'digital commons.' These are items that are deliberately placed within the public domain.  With minimal restrictions in the form of a very liberal copyright placed upon their use. This blog is published using digital commons. 


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