Are bibliographies copyrighted? (related to Google Library)
December 15, 2004 1:16 AM   Subscribe

In regards to this sentence from a recent press release about the Google library scanning: As it does with new books already included in its search engine, Google will only allow its users to view the bibliographies or other snippets of copyrighted books scanned from the libraries. --- Question: Are bibliographies not copyrighted?
posted by stbalbach to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
That is not a verbatim quote from the press release, as far as I can tell. That is from an AP story which is incorrect.

The press release says it will include bibliographic information which is completely different. This information will look like what's at the bottom of this screen capture.
posted by grouse at 2:33 AM on December 15, 2004

nope, and neither are recipies (so says the librarian down the hall).
posted by jmgorman at 7:54 AM on December 15, 2004

Facts cannot be copyrighted, so a simple listing of references is not protected. An academic tome can be copyright protected, because it assembles facts in a specific order to build up to a given thesis.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:24 AM on December 15, 2004

any bibliography that has the slightest semblance of a value-add however [annotated, with abstracts or descriptions] is copyrightable. wasn't this a big deal recently in a lawsuit sort of way when someone wanted to copy the phone book?
posted by jessamyn at 9:46 AM on December 15, 2004

jessamyn, et al.: Yeah. This seems to be a listing of courst cases involving the Net and IP law; the third section under "Cases" is on facts.
posted by MikeKD at 9:57 AM on December 15, 2004

A bibliography can be subject to copyright, depending on how the bibliography in question is assembled.

It is well settled that compilations of fact may be copyrightable even though facts themselves are not protected. Silverstein v. Penguin Putnam, Inc., 368 F.3d 77, 80 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing 17 U.S.C. §§ 102, 103 (2003); Feist Publ'ns v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991)). Specifically, compilations are protected under 17 U.S.C. § 103(a), defined as a work "formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that are selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship." 17 U.S.C. § 101.

In Feist Publications, however, the Supreme Court held that the names and phone numbers in a white pages phone book were not selected, coordinated or arranged in a sufficiently original way to afford copyright protection. Because "the sine qua non of copyright is originality," a compilation must possess "at least some minimal degree of creativity" to warrant copyright protection. Feist, 499 U.S. at 346. Where the compilation author adds no written expression but rather lets the facts speak for themselves, the expressive element is more elusive. The only conceivable expression is the manner in which the compiler has selected and arranged the facts. Thus, if the selection and arrangement are original, these elements of the work are eligible for copyright protection. See id. at 349.

A bibliography is, essentially, a kind of compiliation in which the "facts" being compiled are the citations to other works. See Adelman v. Christy, 90 F. Supp. 2d 1034, 1043 (D. Ariz. 2000). However, a bibliography is generally only subject to minimal protection under copyright law. See id. at 1043-44. "[T]he copyright in a factual compilation is thin. Notwithstanding a valid copyright, a subsequent compiler remains free to use the facts contained in another's publication to aid in preparing a competing work, so long as the competing work does not feature the same selection and arrangement." Id. at 1044 (quoting Feist, 499 U.S. at 349). In Adelman, the plaintiff obtained a copyright registration on a compilation of reference works generated by her own research. The plaintiff alleged infringement and sought damages from the defendant for using the references listed in the bibliography in the creation of another work. The court concluded that the bibliography was subject to some minimal copyright protection, but defendant had not violated any provision of the copyright laws by making free use of the bibliography in her own research and writing. Id.

The conclusion that a bibliography may be subject to copyright protection is supported by the work for hire doctrine. The Copyright Act's work for hire doctrine provides that "[i]n the case of a work made for hire, the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared is considered the author for purposes of this title, and, unless the parties have expressly agreed otherwise in a written instrument signed by them, owns all of the rights comprised in the copyright. 17 U.S.C. § 201(b) (1994). Section 101 of the Copyright Act defines a "work made for hire" as:
(1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or

(2) a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas, if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire. For the purpose of the foregoing sentence, a "supplementary work" is a work prepared for publication as a secondary adjunct to a work by another author for the purpose of introducing, concluding, illustrating, explaining, revising, commenting upon, or assisting in the use of the other work, such as forewords, afterwords, pictorial illustrations, maps, charts, tables, editorial notes, musical arrangements, answer material for tests, bibliographies, appendixes, and indexes, and an "instructional text" is a literary, pictorial, or graphic work prepared for publication and with the purpose of use in systematic instructional activities. [emphasis added]
The fact that the Copyright act expressly includes bibliographies in this definition supports the conclusion that a bibliography may be, at least under some circumstances, subject to copyright.

As for the specific question under these circumstances, I believe, as grouse pointed out, that what google will actually be displaying is the bibliographic information for the work the selected extract is from, not the bibliography of the work itself.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:23 AM on December 15, 2004

Interesting. So the answer is basically, it depends.

It seems bibliographies (and footnotes) are important metadata for the 100+ million books out there, plus countless journal articles and other publications. As chez pointed out in the blue thread on this topic, bibs and footnotes are the original hyperlinks. As such, when these works are transfered to the internet, the most important thing will be to capture the metadata so they can be properly indexed according to popularity (same way Google indexs web pages, by popularity). So it seems IMO that Google needs the full text searches, but more importantly, it needs the bibliography information so that searches have some relevance (otherwise, searching 7 million books on "Dante" is a waste of time without any relevance). To that end, I would say Googles intention here is highly self-interested and the notion of putting full-text works online is a secondary at best goal, Google is building a proprietary backend database of metadata composed of bibliography and (possibly) footnotes. Google then acts as a pointer to relevant works that the end user can then buy the book or check it out from a library (if its copyrighted).
posted by stbalbach at 12:14 PM on December 15, 2004

Wow, great response, monju. Well done.

stbalbach: Was this question just a pretext to snipe at Google? You don't have the faintest idea what Google's intention is.
posted by languagehat at 2:35 PM on December 15, 2004

Grouse's comment is correct - the press release says "bibliographic information" not "bibliography", which would mean things like title, author, date and place of publication, publisher, pages, edition, maybe things like Library of Congress Subject Headings or an abstract or other metadata. Not a bibliography of sources cited. Such information, of course, would not be covered by copyright (abstracts aren't covered by copyright law, which is why you can get people producing databases like PubMed that contain bibliographic information).

And thanks to monju for an interesting insight into whether bibliographies are covered by copyright.
posted by Infinite Jest at 6:02 PM on December 15, 2004

« Older Good Auto Mechanic (for American Car) Near...   |   Writing software to control signal and modulation... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.