Saturday, December 26, 2015

Copyright and Transcriptions

Late yesterday I received criticism about placing a copyright notice on the texts I've transcribed from medieval cooking manuscripts and public-domain print editions of medieval documents. I take criticism very seriously, even if I dislike the way it's given. I've always felt that in order to learn I must keep my eyes and ears open.

While I've put much thought and effort into both protecting my own intellectual property as well as ensuring I don't violate the copyrights of others,  it would appear that I failed to completely understand the details of copyright law with respect to this very specialized context.

Copyright is meant to protect creative, original work. Unlike my interpretations of medieval recipes, the very nature of transcriptions means that they have very little content that is actually original – even though there can be huge amounts of work involved (reading Middle English handwriting can be a true bite in the butt).

When I was putting the transcriptions up online, I was focused on the amount of effort I had made to produce them rather than on the amount of original content. That means that, while I was legally within my rights to make use of the public-domain text, the copyright I added to them was essentially unenforceable.

It's worth noting at this point that at no time have I tried to enforce it either. I never asked for royalties or denied permission for use ... not that anyone asked. It would appear that few people, if any, are interested in copying such a work and passing it off as their own. Even if they had, I would have likely just shrugged. After all, how could I prove that they didn't just do their own transcription from the same source.

Which I guess is precisely the point. If I can't enforce the copyright and can't prove infringement then what's the purpose of the notice?

With all of this in mind, I have removed the copyright notices from the works that I have transcribed. I have left the texts up online and will continue to offer more transcriptions in the future for the simple reason that that's part of the whole purpose of – to make the cuisine of medieval Europe more accessible.


Unknown said...

You could always leave a note on there to the effect:
Should you choose to use my transcriptions I would appreciate knowing to what use you are putting them. And credit would be nice too.
More of a creative commons license where your hard work is recognized and valued.

AncientWire said...

Your translation should be considered a derivative work. How much is translation and how much is addition, I can't say.
"Common derivative works include translations,..."
"To be copyrightable, a derivative work must incorporate some or all of a
preexisting “work” and add new original copyrightable authorship to that work.
... The following are examples of the many different types of derivative works:"
"• A translation of a novel written in English into another language"

"The copyright in a derivative work covers only the additions, changes, or other new material appearing for the first time in the work. Protection does not extend to any preexisting material, that is, previously published or previously registered works or works in the public domain or owned by a third party."

I don't work with Middle English, but I am sure there are words that we no longer use, and the way to translate those words is the choice of the new author.

For example, look at how many different ways some passages of the bible have been translated.

I'm not a lawyer, and I don't play one on TV.

Doc said...

The translations are indeed derivative works, and therefore I have kept the copyright notice in place for them. The notices I removed were the ones on the transcriptions of texts where no translation was involved. If I did a translation of the Middle English into modern then I could claim the copyright for that work.

I do still have copyright over the printed edition of the Recipes from the Wagstaff Miscellany as that contains additional content in the form of analysis and commentary.

Monica said...

You absolutely have the copyright of your translations and transcriptions. Taking down the copyright notice on each page doesn't negate that. (What would negate it is if you say "this now free to the world! Have at!)

However, if you'd like to allow others to use your work but put some limits on it, might I suggest you look into Copyleft? It's basically a license that allows others to use your work, with some limits. Such as "attribution required" or "no commercial work."