August 8, 2007

My Foray into Copyright

This morning's adventure is into the realm of copyright and operations manuals. We have a bunch of operations manuals from the 60s and 70s that are still in regular use at the telescopes; they're physically falling apart, so have been digitized for our use, but they're also used by observers to the telescopes. The companies that provided these manuals back in the day have since vanished. Could we, legally, post the PDFs of these manuals in our new online observer's manual? I had no idea - copyright is not my area of expertise by a long shot. (I know the basics, at least!)

So, I turned to my colleagues and posted an inquiry to some division listservs. Here's a summary of my responses:

* Information Outlook has a regular column on copyright, "Info Rights", by Lesley Ellen Harris - they aren't available online right now but had a lot of good suggestions and resources for frequent copyright questions and uses. (I'll be sure not to skip over that section anymore, that's for sure!)

* (Amended to include this item) CFHT's Liz Bryson maintains a rather complete list of copyright resources that's got a lot of good information.

* If you're affiliated with a university or college, chances are very high that they subscribe to a copyright clearinghouse like the Copyright Clearance Center - check with them, they might have the answer. Or, if you have a legal department, ask them. (Lots of folks suggested these.)

* Also, be sure to check the CCC and LOC copyright sites directly. I actually found the answer I was looking for on the CCC web site; according to the "What is Copyright" page, in the "Public Domain" section:

Public domain materials generally fall into one of four categories:

  1. Generic information, such as facts, numbers and ideas.
  2. Works whose copyrights have lapsed due to the passage of time or the failure of the copyright holder to renew a registration (a requirement that applies to works created before 1978).
  3. Works created prior to March 1989 that failed to include a proper notice of copyright.
  4. Works created by the U.S. federal government.
I called CCC directly, briefly explained my situation, and asked for confirmation that they would, in fact, fall under #3 above. (In this arena, I don't trust my own first interpretation.) The very kind rep verified that yes indeedy, they would, and that it would not be a copyright violation to link a PDF of the manual (in its entirety, including the cover page) to our online observer's manual.

So. This has been a good lesson for me on copyright resources and information - thanks so much to everyone who replied to me with suggestions! dPAM and dSOLO rock :-)

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