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On 6/24/14, Paul Bartlett <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> One question that often comes up, although not strictly within the scope
> of the article, is the copyright status of allegedly "orphan" works,
> works which have not unequivocally passed into the public domain due to
> age.

Based on what came up with Loglan, it isn't possible to copyright a
language. So the language proper is in the public domain, including
words and grammar. However, a description can be copyrighted. The
English language is in the public domain, and so are Esperanto and
Klingon. But books about English (Esperanto, Klingon, et al.) may be
copyrighted. So I can't legally publish _The Klingon Dictionary_
online--I'm sure it's still under copyright--but I can publish a
summary of the grammar and probably mostly reproduce the vocabulary.
(I admit I'm not sure how that would work, since the glosses would be
difficult to summarize or modify without deviating from the source.)

Of course, there is the matter of what really is a language. Klingon
may be regarded not as a language but as a trademarked product, though
its use as a language by numerous fans should undercut that argument.

> A ready example I can think of is Kenneth Searight's book "Sona: an
> Auxiliary Neutral Language" published in London in 1935. I own a copy,
> and I have searched it several times. I can find no mark, symbol, claim,
> or statement of copyright in it. I have read (although have no ready way
> of verifying) that Searight had no children. Is the book in copyright?
> If so, who owns the copyright? Someone to whom Searight bequeathed it by
> will? Some relatives (and if so, who are they)? The original publisher,
> which may no longer be the same legal entity? And so on. No copyright
> was ever registered in the USA. (I have personally verified this.)

Since he died in 1957, it's in the public domain in Canada, anyway.
Since there was no copyright registered in the US, I am virtually
certain it is in the public domain here as well: the reason many works
published earlier are still under copyright here is that their
copyright was renewed at some point. This is why some works of the
same age as _Sona_ (or even a bit more recent) can be found on
Gutenberg.org: they either weren't properly copyrighted here or
entered the public domain before our laws changed in the 70s.
Elsewhere it's probably still under copyright.

> An exact photocopy of the book is available online in PDF form. Is this
> copy an infringement of a possibly indeterminable copyright, even though
> no one is making any money off it, the original book is out of print,
> and copies are very hard to come by? Is there some kind of infringement
> if individuals want to learn and use Sona? These are questions that can
> often come up with older works.

Public domain in US and Canada, probably under copyright elsewhere for
another 13-43 years.

Steve