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I heard that reprints of ancient texts can only be copyrighted for their format, but not their actual text.

But if you like the format, how close to the published format can you get before it's copyright infringement? (Also, if my premise is wrong, please correct me)

This is an educational question and I am curious if such a case is even possible, and if not, how such a case would go about being decided.

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The text of an ancient manuscript would indeed not be covered by copyright. A translation into a modern language normally would be protected by copyright. (Unless it is purely a machine or algorithmic translation.)

The formatting of a publication could ber protected by copyright, but only if it includes some significantly original element. (In the US, and in many but not all other countries, only original works or original aspects of works may be protected by copyright. Thus where the copyright is for format the format must include an original element or elements.) If the format was a normal one for the type of publication, ther would be no original content to protect, and so no copyright at all. A work alleged to infringe a copyright on the format would need to be shown to have copied an original element or elements of the prior publication's format.

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  • By the parenthetical statement did you mean to say that in the U.S (and many other countries), not even if there is a significantly original element in an unoriginal work can it be protected by copyright? – Sam Oct 26 at 3:09
  • @Sam No I didn't. I have edited the answer to clarify this. – David Siegel Oct 26 at 3:15
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    Can you bring sources for the points you made? – Sam Oct 26 at 3:18
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    @Sam which points do you want sources for? That copyright requires originality in the US is black-letter law, see 17 USC, particularly section 106, and the Feist vs Rural and Bridgeman vs Corel cases. – David Siegel Oct 26 at 3:25

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