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  1. #1
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    Rules when copyright holder is out of business?

    Hi,

    I was wondering what are the rules when the copyright owner is out of business? I brought a book a decade ago and wanted to use information form it in my website. However the copyright owner no longer exists. There is also no information about that company on the web. I would have contacted the publisher but there the same company. So will it be legal to use information from that book?

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    Word Painter silver trophy Shyflower's Avatar
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    Have you tried sending a letter? Just because a company isn't on the web, doesn't mean they are out of business. You can also search the copyright office for registered works.

    Copyright lasts for decades. Just because you can't contact someone doesn't mean they no longer own the property. Sometimes when you are unable to ask a question it's because the answer is "no".
    Linda Jenkinson
    "Say what you mean. Mean what you say. But don't say it mean." ~Unknown

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    Tried sending a letter, even went to their offices, place has been closed for years

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    Copyright is an asset just like physical possessions. If the company is in fact out of business, their assets went somewhere and belong to someone now. If that someone has died, their assets belong to their heir(s). And so forth. Regardless of whether or not you're able to track down the copyright owner, they still own the copyright, and you must have their permission to use their copyrighted material (except for "fair use" and certain other exceptions, of course).

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    Thanks, From what I read about fair use, if I just use the material as a starting point and cite it that should be ok.

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    Word Painter silver trophy Shyflower's Avatar
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    Before you do, take another look at "fair use".
    Linda Jenkinson
    "Say what you mean. Mean what you say. But don't say it mean." ~Unknown

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    SitePoint Zealot shaeldl's Avatar
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    70 years after the author's death, the work becomes public.

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    SitePoint Enthusiast ScottyDM's Avatar
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    In the USA Disney Corp. got Congress to lengthen that. So the rules are not uniform world-wide.


    If you can't track down the current copyright holder you're pretty much stuck. You can't use the work.

    However, one cannot copyright facts. If you want to use the information, you should be okay, but do not copy even a single sentence from the book unless you quote it and cite the source. To claim something as your own when it isn't, is plagiarism. Also, you should not copy chunks of the original even with citing the source, as that could be seen as copyright infringement.

    If you want a bunch of facts on some subject then you'd probably best to find multiple sources, extract fact from expression, then do a complete rewrite using existing facts and your own unique expression. And if someone has created a new phrase, terminology, or method, you'd best cite them as the creator to avoid plagiarism. For example, Dwight Swain wrote a book on constructing fiction and he came up with the terminology "Scenes and Sequels". Randy Ingermanson wrote a web page on constructing fiction and he cited Swain's book and uses Swain's terminology--but he did a complete rewrite (and condensation) of part of Swain's work. As Ingermanson is a published author of fiction he has his own spin on how to construct it, so it's not a copy of Swain's work.

    By the way, that doesn't work for fiction. Since fiction is mostly expression and very little "fact" it's pretty hard to do a rewrite of something like Sleeping Beauty without it looking like a rewrite of Sleeping Beauty.

    Also, I am not a lawyer!

    Scotty
    "I'm obnoxious and disliked, you know that, sir."
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    Quote Originally Posted by ScottyDM View Post
    In the USA Disney Corp. got Congress to lengthen that. So the rules are not uniform world-wide.


    If you can't track down the current copyright holder you're pretty much stuck. You can't use the work.

    However, one cannot copyright facts. If you want to use the information, you should be okay, but do not copy even a single sentence from the book unless you quote it and cite the source. To claim something as your own when it isn't, is plagiarism. Also, you should not copy chunks of the original even with citing the source, as that could be seen as copyright infringement.

    If you want a bunch of facts on some subject then you'd probably best to find multiple sources, extract fact from expression, then do a complete rewrite using existing facts and your own unique expression. And if someone has created a new phrase, terminology, or method, you'd best cite them as the creator to avoid plagiarism. For example, Dwight Swain wrote a book on constructing fiction and he came up with the terminology "Scenes and Sequels". Randy Ingermanson wrote a web page on constructing fiction and he cited Swain's book and uses Swain's terminology--but he did a complete rewrite (and condensation) of part of Swain's work. As Ingermanson is a published author of fiction he has his own spin on how to construct it, so it's not a copy of Swain's work.

    By the way, that doesn't work for fiction. Since fiction is mostly expression and very little "fact" it's pretty hard to do a rewrite of something like Sleeping Beauty without it looking like a rewrite of Sleeping Beauty.

    Also, I am not a lawyer!

    Scotty
    Thanks, I needed facts from the book. For example the book listed the sources of certain ingredients. I wanted to make a page listing the ingredients. So if I used that book for the sources of ingredients will that be copyright violations?

    I using other sources as well.

  10. #10
    SitePoint Enthusiast ScottyDM's Avatar
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    What country are you in?

    Although it's not in mentioned Circular 92 of US Copyright Law, I do remember reading on their website that you cannot copyright recipes. Your comment about ingredients reminded me of that.

    A list of sources for ingredients is probably out of date, so you'd need to do your own research. However, I can't see how starting your research with the books list of sources could be a copyright violation. A company name, number, and address, along with the information that they make or sell a particular ingredient is factual information. Facts cannot be copyrighted. Also, you could probably find new sources, so your list won't be identical to the one in the book.

    However, I am not a lawyer. Check your local laws.

    Scotty
    "I'm obnoxious and disliked, you know that, sir."
    John Adams, 1776 the Musical

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    SitePoint Addict BlazeMiskulin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ScottyDM View Post
    Facts cannot be copyrighted.
    This is a debatable statement in this context. A list of ingredients may be considered a recipe--which can be copyrighted. Also, major league sports in the US have claimed copyright to the stats of their players (which are simply facts), and have had the claims upheld in some cases.
    M Blaze Miskulin
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  12. #12
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    I think the truth is somewhere between the far sides of each legal argument. Bottom line, if you don't know, you probably are not legally protected if you use something...however...you are the only one who can decide the risks of someone from a dead company coming back to you. I probably wouldn't do it, but i'm not in your situation.

  13. #13
    SitePoint Enthusiast ScottyDM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BlazeMiskulin View Post
    This is a debatable statement in this context. A list of ingredients may be considered a recipe--which can be copyrighted.
    Assuming the Wisconsin you are from is the Wisconsin in the USA, then wrong. Straight from the website of the US Copyright Office:
    Mere listings of ingredients as in recipes, formulas, compounds or prescriptions are not subject to copyright protection. However, where a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection.


    Quote Originally Posted by BlazeMiskulin View Post
    Also, major league sports in the US have claimed copyright to the stats of their players (which are simply facts), and have had the claims upheld in some cases.
    People can claim all kinds of crazy things, and copyright does not require a review process. I'd heard a story that the wife of one of the guys on the 9-11 flight that crashed in the middle of a field, claimed copyright to the phrase, "Let's roll," which was the last thing she heard her husband say over his cell phone just before the passengers tried to take back control of the flight from the terrorists. Even with my feeble understanding of copyright I can see several reasons why that isn't possible: spoken words are not in a tangible fixed medium (but she could copyright a tape recording of the call), and the phrase is just too dang short.

    As for what judges do in court... sometimes they just seem to have a bad day. Several years ago I read of a court decision where a college student had given away hundreds of copies of a major software package. The publisher sued for copyright infringement and the decision was that since the student didn't charge for the copies, it wasn't infringement! Now there can be some basis for commercial versus non-profit use when deciding on infringement--but the fact that it was the whole package (100% of the work) he copied, and that his actions financially hurt the copyright holder, the decision that he was innocent just seems whack to me. So it doesn't surprise me that some other judge might find for infringement when the US Copyright Office specifically says facts (such as baseball statistics) are not copyrightable.


    For Sitepoint members in the USA, this may be of interest.

    Scotty
    "I'm obnoxious and disliked, you know that, sir."
    John Adams, 1776 the Musical

  14. #14
    SitePoint Addict BlazeMiskulin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ScottyDM View Post
    Assuming the Wisconsin you are from is the Wisconsin in the USA, then wrong. Straight from the website of the US Copyright Office:
    I said "may be" because I haven't seen the text in question. I don't know what the ingredients make, how they're listed, what other information accompanies them, nor what the individual intends to do with the list.


    People can claim all kinds of crazy things, and copyright does not require a review process.

    As for what judges do in court... sometimes they just seem to have a bad day.

    ...So it doesn't surprise me that some other judge might find for infringement when the US Copyright Office specifically says facts (such as baseball statistics) are not copyrightable.
    The pro sport stats issue isn't some random person trying to get attention and cash. This is MLB, NFL, NBA, etc. putting a lot of time and effort into establishing ownership of identifying information--similar to a name or photographic representation. Fantasy Baseball is estimated to be a $150 million per annum industry with approximately 15 million players. MLB claims that the stats can't be separated from the person, therefore are not "just facts".

    It's a fact that on Sept 30th, 1951 the center fielder for the NY Yankees was a man named Joe DiMaggio, and at the end of the game he had a career batting average of .325, 2214 hits, and 361 home runs.

    Where does that information stop being "just facts" and start being "identifying information"? And more importantly, are you willing to stand up to the legal department of Major League Baseball in court in order to find out?

    This thread is another example of the deplorable state of copyright law in the US. The problem isn't that the rules are to strict or too lax, it's that they're too random. People don't know what the rules are, and often have no way of finding out. The courts and "back-alley" legal tactics being used by many corporations in recent years only serve to further confuse the issue.
    M Blaze Miskulin
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    Geek Niche Web Hosting


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