[APG Public List] Copyright and content issue

Carl Oehmann oehmannc at tx.rr.com
Thu Oct 15 13:21:11 MDT 2009

While I cannot disagree with your statement of the current copyright law, I
would like to propose food for thought as any law can be challenged if it is
felt to be unjust. Consider this hypothetical case: a 17th century church
register is discovered and it is entirely written in Latin. So therefore the
ORIGINAL data is in Latin. If someone was to translate the document into
English could that new work not be considered to be ORIGINAL as no other
English version exists?
If you buy that, then let's say we have a 17th century American Church
register that is written in English. The problem is the entries are faded in
different places and very difficult to read and in addition it is written in
the handwriting of the time which perhaps less than 1% of the population
today could decipher without special training. So if someone transcribed
that into something readable could that work not also be considered
When the Copyright Act was created in 1909 and revised in 1976, there did
not exist the technology that is available today to virtually scan an entire
book and using character recognition software essentially lift data that
might have taken someone months to compile. I would not be surprised to see
the law challenged in the future. Why would anyone want to go to the expense
to create a compilation with the objective of commercial use only to have it
lifted and put on-line for all to use free of charge.
Just my thoughts...
Carl Oehmann

-----Original Message-----
From: apgpubliclist-bounces at apgen.org
[mailto:apgpubliclist-bounces at apgen.org] On Behalf Of Pat Asher
Sent: Thursday, October 15, 2009 9:59 AM
To: APG APG Public
Subject: Re: [APG Public List] Copyright and content issue

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

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 

More information about the APGPublicList mailing list