Public Speech, Public Domain
July 7, 2006 6:32 PM   Subscribe

If an individual makes a speech in a public setting, does the text of that speech become part of the public domain?
posted by NotMyselfRightNow to Law & Government (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
posted by Captaintripps at 6:34 PM on July 7, 2006

Sorry to be obtuse, but what are your credentials, Captaintripps?
posted by jxpx777 at 6:44 PM on July 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

It probably depends on the country, but usually materials don't become copyrighted until recorded on a fixed medium, so if you're not taping it and it's not a derived work of anything you wrote down, it's probably never going to become copyrighted in the first place.

Apart from that, there's no reason why a public performance of a copyrighted work would change its copyright status.
posted by fvw at 6:47 PM on July 7, 2006

Actually, if you are a politician (in the USA), the text of your speeches is in the public domain. The problem is the recordings and footage of the speeches is not in the public domain. NPR had an excellent audio report on the issue.
posted by mdevore at 6:50 PM on July 7, 2006

Response by poster: mdevore, I did know about politicians and copyright. Do you happen to know if that holds true for military officers, too?

(My question wasn't specifically in regards to politicians or service members; I'm just trying to get a full picture of the law.)
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:57 PM on July 7, 2006

Not being a legally trained type person, I can't offer an unqualified or professionally informed opinion for military personnel or others who are not politicians. I just thought it was interesting that politicians, with respect to your question as a subset of the general populace, were well-covered territory.

I did find an explicit statement on the topic from the FutureU website, though I can't tell whether they "know" the answer, are quoting a ruling, or are merely giving their own interpretation of how matters stand (obviously, a common problem with Internet attributions, particularly legal ones). But their remarks sound credible:

"A public speech is copyrighted only if the speaker writes it down, authorizes it to be recorded, or has someone record it at the time it is given. Because Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech was written down on paper and registered with the Copyright Office, Mrs. King has been able to forbid its duplication without permission. If you want to tape a speech for distribution (online or off), you will need to obtain copyright clearance from the speaker."

Given that several attorneyish people hang out around here, and some percentage of them have training in related civil matters, perhaps one of them will post a more definitive response quoting relevant laws and legal precedent.
posted by mdevore at 7:28 PM on July 7, 2006

If it is fixed in a tangible medium (and as soon as it is), it is copyrighted. At least since the copyright law of 1979 or 1971 or whenever passed, that is.
posted by oaf at 7:34 PM on July 7, 2006

No more than a public performance of a symphony puts the symphony in the public domain.
posted by mendel at 7:57 PM on July 7, 2006

By posting this comment here I place its content under a Creative Commons license according to Metafilter policy, as we all do with everything we post here. The rub is that I don't quite understand exactly what mathowie means by "Creative Commons" -- or why I should care either way about things I type unto these pages.

I care much more about what I just thought to call Common Decency licensing, e.g., please don't take credit for my words, and if you make money off something I say here please share it with me. (By that standard it appears now that I can't put a certain phrase on a T-shirt without consent from klangklangston's dad.)

It's too bad I didn't realize there was any money in "Ask Me About Explosive Diarrhea" or I'd'a never let 'em have it for free.
posted by davy at 8:53 PM on July 7, 2006


Did the speaker have any recorded record of the speech (audio, written etc) before it was delivered?
YES -> Speaker owns the copyright to the text of the speech
NO -> First person to record the words owns the copyright to the speech
posted by zaebiz at 9:01 PM on July 7, 2006

FWIW ... If you stand in a public place where you have no reasonable expectation of privacy and no admission is charged for my presence (e.g. a street corner), and I record you, then my specific recording of your act (speech, music, etc) is mine. Not the content, mind you. The recording of the specific event. It's my expression of a public event.

Now, if your act is otherwise copyrighted (e.g. you are a street performer playing your own songs, or a poet reading your own verse), you retain those rights. I can record the street performer singing and sell that tape of him singing. But I can't record the street performer, write down the lyrics, sing the lyrics into a microphone and sell a recording of me singing his song.

Make sense?

'Nother example. Let's say I snapped a photo of Lindsay Lohan upchucking on a public sidewalk outside the Viper Room. That photo is mine, mine, mine. National Enquirer, here I come. But I can't then use that photo to advertise, say, my line of upchuck-proof shoes. I own the photo. Lindsay owns her face.
posted by frogan at 9:43 PM on July 7, 2006

Specifically, frogan is discussing the first sale doctrine, ot something very much akin to it.

It also applies to, say, autographed photos. You can't *reproduce* a photo, without copyright license, but the single physical object is yours to sell, assuming you own it in the first place.
posted by baylink at 7:52 PM on July 10, 2006

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