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Help Spare Me Some Wasted Effort Due to Copyright Restrictions...
December 24, 2010 2:29 PM   Subscribe

CopyrightFilter: I'm haunted by the story of Barbara Newhall Follett linked on the Blue a few days ago. Help a me understand the copyright issue(s) associated with her first published work, The House Without Windows.

In the thread, there's a link to Columbia's records for the six boxes containing her writings.

In the thread, twoleftfeet points out there's no record of a copyright renewal for House with Windows since 1978, and concludes that it's likely in the pubic domain.

Marissa Stole the Precious Thing refers to Columbia's Notes on Restrictions section.

Being essentially clueless about copyright, I have what I think is a simple question: do these references conclude that House Without Windows is, indeed, in the public domain, and, if they do not, how would I best determine that work's copyright status?
posted by OneMonkeysUncle to Law & Government (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
This website has a handy breakdown of what is and isn't in the public domain based on publication dates and other relevant info.
posted by sinfony at 2:44 PM on December 24, 2010


Handy flowchart!
posted by prefpara at 2:55 PM on December 24, 2010


Might be worth contacting (or maybe there's someone with a professional relationship who could contact?) the Curator of Manuscripts/University Archivist referenced in the record.

Their restrictions seem at first glance to be pretty draconian; I'm not sure why someone ought to need to secure permission from an archivist to publish materials in a particular collection, in addition to securing permission from the copyright holder. That's a bit odd, and I wonder if just ignoring it would be actionable (aside from perhaps not being given access to their collections again). I've heard of copyright being extended to cover anthologies, when taken as a whole, of out-of-copyright works, but I'd never heard of a library archive having a separate copyright that would allow them to restrict the publication of the materials (aside from refusing to grant you access).

I find the whole idea of a library restricting access in order to (in the words of morganw in the referenced thread) "keep their rare material rare" pretty offensive. It's not clear that's what Columbia is trying to do; maybe they're just being overcautious about liability or something. But seems like maybe it's something an email could clarify.

If you can get good-quality page scans, it seems like a good Distributed Proofreaders project. There are people on the forums there who might be able to offer informed opinions regarding the copyright status, based on previous experience with works from the same era.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:22 PM on December 24, 2010


Their restrictions seem at first glance to be pretty draconian; I'm not sure why someone ought to need to secure permission from an archivist to publish materials in a particular collection, in addition to securing permission from the copyright holder. That's a bit odd, and I wonder if just ignoring it would be actionable (aside from perhaps not being given access to their collections again). I've heard of copyright being extended to cover anthologies, when taken as a whole, of out-of-copyright works, but I'd never heard of a library archive having a separate copyright that would allow them to restrict the publication of the materials (aside from refusing to grant you access).

The House Without Windows should be public domain, assuming there's not copyright notice. You could probably issue a reprint with no legal problems (but IANAL). If you just want to read some of her works, a nearby university library might have copies (on a long shot, you could even try your local public library, although that seems doubtful). The archive situation is a tricky one, though. A copyright may have long since expired, but an archivist can nevertheless legally exercise control over the work if that archive carries the only, or one of the few, copies of it. More specifically, there can be a contract that allows you to use the works in the archive only under specific conditions. It's a licensing issue.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 12:13 PM on December 25, 2010


Since my interest is in House Without Windows - a best-selling published work of which Columbia's library couldn't realistically claim their copy is the only one in existence - and not the rarer or even unpublished materials Columbia has in it's possession, then it appears book is in the public domain. I followed the flowchart helpfully linked above, and no renewal of the copyright has been filed since the 1978 change in the rules... Is there an "authority" from whom I may request verification of this?
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 2:25 PM on December 25, 2010


The Library of Congress will do a search if you pay them: http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-services.html#whoowns
Can you tell me who owns a copyright?

We can provide you with the information available in our records. A search of registrations, renewals, and recorded transfers of ownership made before 1978 requires a manual search of our files. Upon request, our staff will search our records at the statutory rate of $165 for each hour (2 hour minimum). There is no fee if you conduct a search in person at the Copyright Office. Copyright registrations made and documents recorded from 1978 to date are available for searching online. For further information, see Circular 22, How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work, and Circular 23, Copyright Card Catalog and the Online File.
Now as to the book in question, it was published in 1927. That means in order to be renewed, copyright renewal should have been filed in 1954 or 1955. The LoC doesn't have those online, but (thanks to Project Gutenberg & Distributed Proofreaders) other
people do. And more to the point, doing a search on "Barbara Newhall Follett" reveals a renewal in 1954, attributed to Mrs. Nickerson Rogers (Barbara Newhall Follett) -- which is interesting, considering her disappearance in 1939. (She also is listed as renewing another book in 1955).

That means the book is *not* in the public domain, and under current law will expire 95 years after publication, or 1927+95=2022. If you want to publish it before then, you will need to track down the current copyright holder, and get permission.

It would be interesting to know if copyright renewal forms were stored, and if they included the renewer's address. If so, that might be an angle for someone trying to track down what happened to her.
posted by fings at 4:13 PM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


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