[APG Public List] Copyright and content issue

Pat Asher pjroots at att.net
Thu Oct 15 08:58:47 MDT 2009

At 08:55 PM 10/14/2009, Craig Kilby wrote:
>I suppose the main question is this: If one were to alter the format
>of a book (in this case, alphabetizing the names, separating them into
>birth, marriage and death), BUT took the information from the
>published transcript (and gave attribution to it as the source) what
>copyright infringements would or would not be broached?

In the U.S. facts (data) can not be copyrighted.

An ORIGINAL selection or arrangement of facts may be copyrighted, but 
the copyright extends only to the original selection or arrangement, 
not the facts themselves.  Others are free to extract/copy the 
uncopyrighted facts and present them in a different selection or arrangement.

Annotations are presumably original works of authorship, and thus 
would be copyrighted.

>To further muddy these waters, another book that is nearly identical
>in terms of the parish register raw data was published in 1962 and is
>currently under copyright with yet another publisher.  This author did
>his own transcription of the original parish register without using
>the first author's work.

It makes no difference WHERE the second author obtained the 
uncopyrightable facts.  If the first author held copyright to his 
"discovered" facts, then the second author could not have published 
the same facts without violating the copyright of the person who 
first discovered them.  Just because a work as a whole is 
copyrighted, that does not mean everything contained in the work is 
copyrighted by the author/publisher.  Think of a magazine or an 
anthology of poetry where the copyrights of the original authors 
remain with them.  The compiler/publisher holds copyright only to the 

>Confused yet?  So are we.  The submitted data has been removed from
>the USGENWEB site for the county in question.  It is somewhat a pity
>that it can't be on there, but I am mindful that if it is still
>offered for sale (both books are) then this probably is an infringement.
>The main question is to what extent, IF ANY, one can rearrange the
>data into a different format and call it an "original work?"

In the U.S., anyone can copy any fact not protected by privacy law, 
and republish at will.  If the publication from which the facts are 
copied contains an original selection or arrangement, they must 
reshuffle the facts to create a different selection or 
arrangement.  If the copied work consists of a standard selection or 
arrangement (e.g. all records in an alphabetized list) then they may 
republish the same list without infringing copyright.

Pat Asher 

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