For example, this article Law and Ideology is posted in the platform Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. In the bottom of the article it cites:

Copyright © 2019 by Christine Sypnowich [email protected]

And in the bottom of the site it says:

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is copyright © 2016 by The Metaphysics Research Lab, Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI), Stanford University

So who has copyright of this article? I guess the author, not the site's owner, but is this correct? Does the site's owner have any right on the article, besides being allowed to post or retract the article on the site? Can the site's owner use the article or grant permission for others to use it (e.g. to translate it) on behalf of the author?

  • 2
    You can literally click on the copyright notice below the article and will be shown detailed information about the licensing on that website: “Authors contributing an entry […] retain the copyright to their entry or entries. By contributing an entry or entries, authors grant [Stanford] an exclusive license to publish their entry”.
    – amon
    Commented May 7, 2021 at 11:49

2 Answers 2


A platform will have copyright on its selection of articles, for example. Even if you get permission of all authors who are published on the platform, you couldn't just copy their selection of articles. It's like me publishing a CD "Best of the Beatles", I'd have copyright on my choice as what I regard as the best 20 Beatles songs. You can't just make a CD with the exact same 20 songs.

The author of the article still has copyright on their article. They will have given the platform some rights, or you wouldn't be able to read their article, but they have the copyright until they deliberately hand it to someone else.

  • The selection can also be copyrighted? Can you explain more? Would Beatles have the right to violate that right? Back to the article, if the author hands some rights to the platform, then would it be correct to say the author own copyright to the article? At least it should be "modified copyright", right?
    – Ooker
    Commented May 7, 2021 at 12:25
  • @Ooker copyright is inherently divisible, and the holder may sell, give away, or transfer parts of it. One may sell "all rights for North America" or "the right of translation into French" or the right to adapt into a play, or the right to perform (but not to reproduce) or any other particular right. The original holder retains whatever rights are not transferred, but this is not usually called "modified copyright".. More often the compiler of a collective work only gets a license to use an item in that work. See my answer for more detail. Commented May 7, 2021 at 16:30
  • 2
    If the remaining Beatles wanted to release a an album "Best of the Beatles", then first the title has zero originality, so you can't get copyright on that. And the selection... I'm quite sure that they would have their own opinion what their best songs were, and wouldn't copy someone else's list. But if they did, it would be copyright infringement. On the other hand, if you tried to sue them, you better be very very sure that you had permission to copy their songs. Or a judge might say "Beatles pay you $750 for copying your song selection. You pay $150,000 per song for copying their songs."
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 7, 2021 at 20:39
  • I think it is important to distinguish between "coming up with the same list" and "copying the list". Only the latter is copyright infringement. Copyright is non-exclusive, unlike patents. If you come up with a creative work that happens to be identical to an already existing one, there is no problem in theory. In practice, should you end up in court, it is generally easier for the first creator to prove that you could reasonably have known the work than it is for you to prove the negative: that you never ever came into contact with it. Commented May 8, 2021 at 5:27
  • @DavidSiegel why don't we have different versions of copyright, similarly to creative common?
    – Ooker
    Commented May 8, 2021 at 7:24

The term in copyright law for such a "platform" is a "collective work" or "compilations ". US law, 17 USC 101, says:

A “collective work” is a work, such as a periodical issue, anthology, or encyclopedia, in which a number of contributions, constituting separate and independent works in themselves, are assembled into a collective whole.

The laws of other countries are similar in this respect.

Each individual item in a collective work has a separate copyright, held by the author, author's employer, or whoever the copyright may have been transferred to, as the case may be. There is a copyright in the collective work itself. This protects the selection and arrangement of the individual items, as well as editorial matter such as an introduction, index, and notes on individual items furnished as part of the collection.

Even when individual items are in the public domain, the collection may have a copyright. For example, if someone prepares a CD of Best Bach Fugues the individual compositions are of course in the public domain, and the recordings might well be, depending on the circumstances. But the choice of which fugues are "Best", which recordings of those fugues to select, and what order to p-resent them in are all the creative work of to compiler, and those are protected by copyright. If some other person published a CD of Great Bach Fugues copying the selection and arrangement of the individual recordings, that would be an infringement (unless permission had been obtained). This is true only when there is creative effort in the selection and arrangement. A collection of all known Bach fugues, arranged chronologically, would be a "natural or obvious" arrangement, and not protected by copyright, just as would a complete collection of the works of Dickens, say, arranged in alphabetical order. See Feist vs Rural for more on the degree of originality needed in a collection.

Of course, sometimes the publisher of a collection obtains the copyrights of individual items. It was once common for magazines to purchase the copyright of articles that they published, but now it is more common that they merely obtain a limited license for their use. But the copyrights are still separate, even if the holder is the same.

To quote the US law on the topic, 17 USC 103 provides that:

(a) The subject matter of copyright as specified by section 102 includes compilations and derivative works, but protection for a work employing preexisting material in which copyright subsists does not extend to any part of the work in which such material has been used unlawfully.

(b) The copyright in a compilation or derivative work extends only to the material contributed by the author of such work, as distinguished from the preexisting material employed in the work, and does not imply any exclusive right in the preexisting material. The copyright in such work is independent of, and does not affect or enlarge the scope, duration, ownership, or subsistence of, any copyright protection in the preexisting material.

M<y understanding is that on this point the laws of most other countries are similar.

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