Who owns the copyright of a 300 year old book transcribed 65 years ago?
November 28, 2008 10:17 AM   Subscribe

My hometown has a diary created by our first minister in the 1700s. The original diary was transcribed into four copies by workers of the Works Progress Administration at some time between 1935 and 1943. The 10 volumes of these copies do not have any copyright marks on their title pages. Now, we would like to scan these transcribed books into pdf documents, and make them available to scholars and interested internet users. Is there a copyright concern?

If the books are under copyright would the it be held by the government or by the (unknown) transcribers? Who would we contact in the government to get permission to scan and distribute these books now given that the WPA has been defunct for 65 years?
posted by Maastrictian to Law & Government (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Any works created by the government are automatically in the public domain, as is the text of the diary itself.
posted by nasreddin at 10:47 AM on November 28, 2008

A work of the US Government is not copyrightable, but I don't know if WPA workers were considered employees. To the best knowlege of the Library of Congress, at least one WPA writing project is in the public domain.
posted by Good Brain at 10:50 AM on November 28, 2008

I'm curious, did the transcribers add value to the original work's text (e.g. annotations, translations, illustrations, background information), or merely reproduce the original manuscript in a more durable, legible format?
posted by onshi at 11:07 AM on November 28, 2008

The creative, original work is that of the minister, not the transcribers, unless they added to it with annotations, etc., as mentioned by onshi.

Assuming they did not transform it, which would make it derivative work, the minister's long-ago death enables you to distribute them. More than the requisite 120 years have passed since the manuscript's first creation.

See www.copyright.gov.
posted by jgirl at 11:23 AM on November 28, 2008

That 120 years pertains only to works created after Jan. 1, 1978, as explained here.

The original diary obviously long ago passed into the public domain. I agree that the transcriptions, as a work of the U. S. government, are not copyrighted.

Even if a copyright somehow existed on these works when created between 1935 and 1943, that copyright would have been good for 28 years only, as explained here. Such a copyright could have been renewed in the 28th year, whenever that was (between 1963 and 1971), but assuming this was not done, that would be the end of any copyright protection.
posted by beagle at 11:56 AM on November 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

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