copyright question

Garrett Wollman
Fri Mar 26 00:42:34 EDT 2010

<<On Thu, 25 Mar 2010 18:53:11 -0700 (PDT), Martin Waters <> said:

> Also, regarding one of the points Joe Ross made: I have a hazy
> pseudo-recollection that before the big changes in the copyright
> laws that he mentioned, material was not automatically copyrighted
> by virtue of being created. In other words, is a top-30 list from,
> let's say, the 1960s, even copyrighted, if it wasn't registered in
> Washington and doesn't say copyright on it?

Your recollection is correct, Marty.  If it was first "published" (in
the technical sense understood by copyright lawyers, which does not
seem to include all the things you or I might consider publication)
prior to 1977, and did not have a valid copyright notice attached,
then it is in the public domain.  Note that this does not apply to
many kinds of non-textual works, nor to any unpublished works, which
(prior to the Copyright Act of 1976) were covered by a hodge-podge of
state copyright laws.  "Unpublished" works now have a near-perpetual
(125-year) copyright, so no unpublished works created after 1885 are
in the public domain yet.  I haven't seen the surveys in question, but
I have seen numerous other surveys and similar ephemera, and don't
recall ever seeing one with a copyright notice.

If the surveys do have a copyright notice, then I'd fall back on what
Joe said -- the copyright probably wasn't registered, or if it was, it
is extremely unlikely that it was renewed.  Nonrenewal (of a
sufficiently-old work to have required renewal) puts the work in the
public domain.  To be sure, one would want to pay a lawyer to grovel
over the Copyright Office's files (on the fourth floor of the Madison
Building at the Libary of Congress in Washington).

ObDisclaimer: IANAL,TINLA.  Seek advice of counsel before relying on
anything I wrote.


[*] Note that the original purpose of copyright was to protect
printers -- later publishers, when those roles became distinct -- from
unauthorized competition.  From the Statute of Anne 1709, the original
copyright law in the British Empire, through the Copyright Act of
1909, copyright was structured as a way to protect publishers -- of
books and later musical works -- not as an inherent right of authors
and composers in their various creations.  That's why copyright
historically did not protect unpublished works.  The 1976 Act changed
all that (for the worse, many on the left would argue) by making
copyright inherent in the work as soon as it is "fixed in tangible
form" and without requiring any sort of registration or renewal to
demonstrate that the work has economic value worthy of protection.
This comes direct from the Berne Convention, and thus from the social
theories of continental Europe -- particularly France and Germany.
(If you want to pick on bad copyright law, however, both the Uruguay
Round Agreements Act and the Mickey Mouse^W^WSonny Bono Copyright Term
Extension Act are far, far worse.)  Enough ranting.

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