Re: TECHWR-L Digest, Vol 55, Issue 11

Subject: Re: TECHWR-L Digest, Vol 55, Issue 11
From: David Neeley <dbneeley -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Wed, 12 May 2010 11:06:02 +0300

Sorry, Kay, but you are suffering from various kinds of
misinformation. Take heart, though, because this is a legal topic that
can be a minefield at times.

I should say that it has now been many years since my classes in
intellectual property law. However, some of the concepts are still
fairly clear in mind--but those with questions that are important to
them should certainly check with their company's legal counsel.

First, you can't copyright basic ideas--only their execution as some
sort of work for publication. In your example, one "writer" cannot
misappropriate the work of another simply by a "race to registration"
or to some sort of publication.

Also, there is substantial confusion over what constitutes
"publication." Let's say you write an article and submit it to a
magazine. That article *already* has a copyright, and your
transmission of it is technically a "publication"--just as writing and
sending a letter would be. As the online legal dictionary puts it: "In
Copyright law, publication is making a book or other written material
available to anyone interested by distributing or offering it for
sale. In the law of Libel and Slander, publication means communicating
the statement in issue to a third person other than the plaintiff (the
individual whom the alleged defamatory statement concerns)." This
definition, though, is a bit more restrictive than some of the
real-world use cases, which themselves are moving into more liberal
interpretations of what constitutes "publication."

For the magazine to claim a copyright on the article, normally you
would transfer some or all of your copyright status in the article to
that magazine--this is usually handled in the contract in which the
magazine purchases it. Often, a magazine will purchase a bundle of
copyright interest--first commercial publication, serial rights,
rights to republish in anthologies, foreign publication, and
electronic publication may all be included. The right for a work to be
sold for broadcast or theatrical release may also be a matter covered
in a given contract. Or, an author may simply sell "all rights" to the

As for a company copyrighting successive versions of a manual--that is
actually quite common and not at all unusual, illegal, or strange. In
such cases, it is fairly common to see a notice including each year of
publication of the manual. For example: "Copyright XYZ Corporation,
1998, 2000, 2001-2010."

As others have pointed out, technically a specific declaration of
copyright is not required, nor is registration. However, taking steps
to prove potential claims of prior use may be wise--such as a formal
registration or the sort of "mail it in a sealed envelope" kind of
process you mention.

As you indicate, things can get dicey when multiple authors claim
ownership of a work and neither has registered it anywhere. Once an
author has been through such an ordeal, it is relatively common for
successive works to be formally registered to avoid such problems in
future. I knew one author who maintained an account with a bank trust
department, and he put an original copy of each completed manuscript
into their vault but through the trust department. Because they had to
track such things meticulously, he thought this kind of third-party
verification of his authorship and its inception date might prove
helpful at some point.


On Wed, May 12, 2010 at 09:00, <techwr-l-request -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com> wrote:
> From: "Robart, Kay" <Kay -dot- Robart -at- tea -dot- state -dot- tx -dot- us>
> To: "McLauchlan, Kevin" <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>, <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
> Date: Tue, 11 May 2010 15:44:33 -0500
> Subject: RE: Two questions about Copyright notices
> The changes between years have to be significant to claim a new
> copyright date, not just a few punctuation marks, and it is against the
> law to claim a copyright before the document has been published.
> Think about it. Suppose two different writers publish the same novel.
> The one with the earlier copyright is going to have the rights to the
> material unless the other one can prove some prior ownership (like a
> dated copy inside a sealed envelope and postmarked or a dated copy in
> the agent's records) or stealing or something. This obviously isn't much
> of a problem for computer documents, but for fiction it's another story
> (not to be punny).
> Copyright wasn't really designed with the idea of companies copyrighting
> an updated manual every six months as opposed to protecting the rights
> of an author who might put out a different edition once or twice, adding
> new prefaces or making significant corrections and additions. An author
> or an author's family might care that he or she still has rights after
> 50 years, but who cares about a 50-year-old computer manual?

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