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Q: Is a transcription of a public domain encyclopedia copyrighted itself? ( Answered,   1 Comment )
Subject: Is a transcription of a public domain encyclopedia copyrighted itself?
Category: Relationships and Society > Law
Asked by: anonymous47-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 03 Jul 2006 10:53 PDT
Expires: 02 Aug 2006 10:53 PDT
Question ID: 743004
I have googled, but I have not found any real answers.

I'd like to know if the following situation is legally allowed in the
United States (IANAL not withstanding)

1)Person A has taken an encyclopedia from the public domain, made 100
years ago, and transcribed 10,000 articles, verbatim, from it and put
it on his website, adding hyperlinks.  Apart from any very minor edits
(perhaps a dozen or so sentences added to all articles total, most of
them are untouched), Person A has not really
rewritten any of the content, but again, merely (though in this case
that was a lot of work, of course) transcribed it.  Person A claims
copyright on this transcription.

Person B would like to put all of those articles on his website,
discarding the hyperlinks in favor of his own database hyperlinking
solution.  All that will be copied is the transcription itself with
whatever (again, very minor) changes that Person A has made.

Since the original text was in the public domain, is Person A allowed
to claim copyright on the transcription itself?  Also, is what Person
B wants to do legal?

Clarification of Question by anonymous47-ga on 03 Jul 2006 10:54 PDT
to clarify - a dozen or so sentences, meaning one every 1,000 articles or so added.

Clarification of Question by anonymous47-ga on 03 Jul 2006 13:04 PDT
also would HTML formatting make a difference?
Subject: Re: Is a transcription of a public domain encyclopedia copyrighted itself?
Answered By: kriswrite-ga on 05 Jul 2006 16:01 PDT
Hello anonymous47~

Person B is legally entitled to reprint the encyclopedia articles, as
long as all original material Person A has added are not used. This
includes layout or formatting. Person A may only claim copyright on
materials that he or she has added, plus the format in which it is

Stanford sums it up thus: "Modifications to a public domain work may
be protected by copyright and cannot be used without permission. A
famous example used in many copyright classes is of the artist who
paints an elaborate hat and mustache on the Mona Lisa. Even though
anyone is free to copy the Mona Lisa image, the modified image (with
mustache and hat) is protected under the artist's copyright.
EXAMPLE: Color has been added to the black and white public domain
film God's Little Acre. This colorization process is copyrightable.
Therefore, the colorized version of God's Little Acre cannot be copied
without permission."

("Public Domain Trouble Spots," Stanford:

Please note that if Person A had compiled encyclopedia articles from a
variety of encyclopedias, then the entire reprinted work would be
copyrighted by him or her, and Person B would not be free to reprint
it without permission.

Person B should be careful that the original encyclopedia articles
are, indeed, in public domain, however; otherwise he or she will be
breaking copyright law. A good website that will help Person B
determine this is online at the University of North Carolina:

Kind regards,



Researcher's personal knowledge

Google search: "public domain"
Subject: Re: Is a transcription of a public domain encyclopedia copyrighted itself?
From: owain-ga on 05 Jul 2006 14:51 PDT
I believe Person A has copyright in his HTML, notwithstanding it's
only a transcription.

Even if a work that is out of copyright is republished the new
publisher has copyright of his typography, and anyone wishing to also
republish the work cannot simply photocopy the new publisher's
typography to save themselves the effort of retyping it. The person
who has transcribed the work clearly has invested in the intellectual
property of that work, it has a value, and he is entitled to have that
value protected. (IANAL)

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