I have been seeing copyrights on lot of microfilms & digital images where the original documents were published before 1923. So I set out to find out how they could copyright a public domain document.
First stop was to see what I could find out about copyrights as it applies to Public Domain. The only thing I could find was Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. But I couldn’t figure out if it was dismissed due to “Fair Use” or because the reproductions involved no originality.
Then a kind Professor of Law put this topic in terms I could understand, “The content is not copyrighted and there is debate about even the image”.
Finally a response from the Library of Congress “Merely reformatting a work is not considered copyrightable authorship. There would have to be the addition of an appreciable amount of original copyrightable matter in order to support a claim to copyright, and, even then, the copyright would not extend to the public domain matter”.
We need to see these people putting on these copyrights as supplying us great service, and we shouldn’t copy their entire works to resell. But we should not have to feel like criminals sharing bits & pieces.
This article is not intended to define the law, but only to report my experiences.