Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Copyrights and Previously Published Works

Every writer needs to know and understand Copyrights. The topics you'll find in this article include:
  • History of Copyright in the United States
  • Copyrights: History of Copyright in the United States
  • Newspaper Copyrights
  • Database of Copyrights
  • Website Copyright
  • The Cyberlaw Encyclopedia
  • Termination of Copyrights
  • Citing Your Sources
  • Law Freedom of Information Act
United States Copyright Office official site, and the history of US Copyrights,

Check this link, Cornell Copyright Information Center,, it clearly defines what works are now public domain, by year.

Several private websites explain US copyright law. These are two of the best I've found:

Brad Templeton's "10 Big Myths about copyright explained,"

Alan Gahtan's, The Cyberlaw Encyclopedia, Be sure to refer to their Terms of Use.

Copyrights and publishing Letters,

Newspaper copyrights
Everything in the newspaper is copyrighted. None of it -- except the actual information -- is public domain. There is a legal reason to not plagrize a newspaper. The paper *probably* won't do anything about it if you make copies to hand to your group, but if you take one of their articles and resell it as your own, I bet they would find you quick. They can -- and would be more than willing -- to do something about it.

It is considered unethical to plagarize newspapers. What is not copyrightable is the actual news -- the facts. You can read a news article in the paper, and reword it, using them as your only source, and be perfectly legal. It's sloppy, but legal. But if you use their lead, organization, format, and conclusion, you're plagarizing.

Newspapers, magazines, books, newsletters, brochures, those little flyers you pick up in the doctor's office ~~ if it's written down, it's copyrighted.

Database of copyrights
Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of TX web site contains a link to WATCH File. The WATCH File (Writers, Artists, and Their Copyright Holders) is a database containing primarily, but not exclusively, the names and addresses of copyright holders or contact persons for authors and artists whose archives are housed, in whole or in part, in libraries and archives in North America and the United Kingdom.

Tip: You'll find useful information regarding copyrights and holders by exploring all of the links. Answers to questions here,

Website copyright
Laws protect website graphics, content, everything, from being used without permission. Study the Cyberlaw Encyclopedia,

Termination of copyrights
Copyright Termination: How Authors (and their Heirs) Can Recapture their pre-1978 Copyrights, by Lloyd J. Jassin,
You'll find many helpful articles here,

Copyrights and derivative works
When you wonder if revising and or excerpting original works changes copyrights read Ivan Hoffman's excellent article on the subject,

Ivan wrote that in part US Copyright law states, a “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications, which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work”.

Read Ivan's entire article for the rest of the legalities involved in a derivative work.

Using previously published works
 Citation styles is one of the many useful links you'll find at University of California Berkley Library,

Law and the Freedom of Information Act
Freedom of Information Act is a federal law that applies only to federal executive agencies and has no jurisdiction over state or local agencies, Congress or the courts. In case you aren't familiar with this Act, which can come in extremely handy when some government clerk isn't too cooperative when you're doing research, here's the Freedom of Information Act site where you can learn your rights to government information,

In many states access to government records is governed by state law and the state's constitution. Open Government Guide, a complete compendium of information on every state's open records and open meetings laws, organized alphabetically by states,

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has the entire text of the Freedom of Information Act on its website,, as well as a guide for using the act. You'll find the text at, There you'll also find the

Also, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) site, includes the text of the 1996 electronic amendments to the FOIA. Click, Freedom of Information to find links to what you want to know. Self-Help Law Center,, Your legal companion, where you'll find a multitude of answers.

Tip: Remember, websites that do not end in .org are not government sites They're private websites.