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 MedievalCookery.com – to make the cuisine of medieval Europe more accessible.
16 hours ago