May I republish an entry from a copyrighted anthology if the entry itself is in the public domain?

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May I republish an entry from a copyrighted anthology if the entry itself is in the public domain?

I am creating an on-line history class which includes many old original sources (US founding era). For some of the readings my source is copyrighted anthologies (since I don’t have access to the original journals, papers, etc). These anthologies have a copyright for the volume and have an additional copyright page for individual entries (only for those entries which come much later than the entries I want to use). The entries I want to publish in my class have no additional copyright. May I publish the original source material (minus any commentary, footnotes, etc)?

Asked on June 22, 2011 under Business Law, Utah

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

There is some risk in doing this. In addition to the material which are wisely choosing to omit, another problem is that the version in the anthology may not be identical to the original, public doman material; that is, it may, for example, including editorial changes, abridgmenets, revisions, etc. which did not exist in the material in the public domain. (For example: have old spellings and usages been updated?) To the extent there are any changes, then the version in the anthology is no longer the version in the public domain, and the anthology's publisher would have copyright in it. Therefore, while it is possible that what you suggest would be ok, it is also possible that instead of reproducing a public domain document, you would be reproducing someone's later copyrighted document.


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