Just when you think you figured out when a document was in the public domain, and no longer copyrighted, your instincts tell you to keep searching. From the May 8, 2010, LibraryLaw blog: The search for the oldest copyrighted work in the U.S. goes on…
Excerpt: “I knew when I wrote my post speculating as to what is the oldest work still protected by copyright in the U.S. that I was likely to get it wrong. Copyright is just too complicated for anyone to get right the first time around…
In the original post, I noted that the oldest work “would … have to have been published under the authority of the copyright owner (most likely, the estate of the author).” One correspondent noted that this could be a foreign estate, which is true. The earliest example of a foreign estate still exerting copyright of which I am aware is the contested ownership of the copyright in the works of John Clare (1793-1864). The Adams works are still earlier, however, so unless someone can identify another estate, we need to look at John Adams for the earliest copyrighted work….” (Link to full post.)
We not infrequently get questions like this one: Can I copyright a PowerPoint Presentation?
As you might expect, the answer is “no, sort-of, and it depends.” In our digital age, the medium may not be the message, and vice versa. PowerPoint is proprietary software, which has its own patent and copyright history. Sometimes the question is more along the lines of whether or not one can copyright the content of a PowerPoint presentation. See how complex this can get?
You can always ask an expert, e.g. a lawyer who specializes in copyright law, but short of that, you’ll need to do some research, teach yourself some copyright basics, and determine which laws apply to your specific situation.
1) Circular 66 and Circular 55 are always good starting place, but as you noticed, they don’t and can’t, answer all questions.
2) The information in this eHow, How to Copyright a Digital Image may be useful too.
3) Copyright Clearance Center has a lot of information, too, but you’ll need to spend some time on the website to see if it answers more questions than it raises.
4) You can also write to Nolo Press’s “Dear Rich: Copyright, Patent and Trademark Blog”. He may get similar questions and decide to write a blog post about the subject.
5) The University of Texas has an entertaining online copyright crash course that may be useful and so does the Franklin Pierce Law Center.
6) There are also a number of copyright-law websites and blogs, e.g. Exclusive Rights. They show additional links to yet more copyright law resources.
7) Don’t forget the Electronic Frontier Foundation as another source of intriguing information on copyright law.
8) On the Oregon Legal Research blog, I’ve blogged a lot about various aspects of copyright law, and the “it depends” nature of most copyright law questions.