Copy Right, Copy Sense



Bellsouth vs. Donnelley

Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony

Copyright CodeA Linked Index

Feist Publications vs. Rural Telephone

Peter Veeck versus Southern Building Code Congress International Inc.,

Publications International  v. Meredith Corporation

Trade-Mark Cases, 100 U.S. 82 (1879)

U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8

Information on this site cannot be considered legal advice.  If you need legal advice on copyright, please consult an attorney or refer to one or more of the sponsor links on the right side of the page. Another place you might look is the US Copyright Office web site.

The copyright information on this site applies to U.S. Copyright, unless otherwise stated.

Copyright Claims That Just Ain't So

My interest in copyright started several years ago because of statements made on web sites and in mailing lists that just didn't seem to be right.  Today, after researching and studying copyright and copyright issues on and off for several years, I know why they aren't right.  I've provided a few examples, with explanations.

Documents older than 1923 are in the public domain with all copyrights and extension to copyrights expired.
False! This statement only applies to published documents.  Unpublished documents fall under different guidelines. The term of these unpublished works is life of the author plus 70 years or December 31, 2002, whichever is greater. (See Copyright Durations)

Copyright law specifically recognizes the right of the person(s) doing the work in creating a compilation to be compensated for their work.
False! This concept was known as the "sweat of the brow" or "industrious collection" test. According to the Supreme Court, this was a misapplication of the law that overlooked the "fundamental axiom of copyright law that no one may copyright facts or ideas." (Feist)

All works published after 1922 are protected by copyright.
The fact of the matter is that copyrights on most works published from 1923 through 1963 lapsed into the public domain because they were not renewed at the end of their first copyright term.  It's been estimated that more than 85% of the works copyright in that period are no longer protected.  I would guess that a far higher percentage of copyrighted genealogical works were never renewed.

"You're going to get into copyright trouble if you keep posting..."
Unlikely. There really isn't any copyright police.  Remedies for infringement require the copyright holder to take civil action, which is very unlikely for material posted to an electronic mailing list.  Beyond that, in most instances, what is being posted is likely not an infringement: 

  • If it's completely composed of facts, there is no infringement.

  • The amount of material posted in a single e-mail is likely small enough to be considered "fair-use."

  • Most genealogical resources are in the public domain, including most books published before 1964. 


Copy Right, Copy Sense Home

Copyright Articles:

What is Copyright?

My Copyright Infringement

How to Deal With Online Media Pirates

Copyright Fundamentals for Genealogy

My Copyright was Infringed!

What is NOT protected by copyright?

Copyright Claims That Just Ain't So


Copyright Concepts:

Authors Labor

Authors Rights

Civil or Criminal?



Copyright Facts

Copyright Notice


Electronic Mail

Fair Use

Fair Use and the DMCA

Foreign Works

From Creation


Inadvertent Infringement


Infringement Remedies

Licenses and Notices

Not Everything Protected






Public Domain

Purpose of Copyright

Really Copyrighted?

U.S. Government Works

What's Protected -

Who Owns the Law? -

Work Place Training


About Copy Right, Copy Sense


2005, Michael Goad