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While cleaning up links, I removed these:

  • The original 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia. Note that only the print edition is in the public domain; the online version at is copyrighted and can't be used.

This isn't an online resource, so it doesn't seem to fit here. On the other hand, we probably should have some place to record known public domain print works.

I don't see any information here that this is public domain; in fact the site explicitly claims otherwise (which doesn't necessarily mean he's right). If the poster has more accurate information, please advise.


About the copyright on scanned in public domain works (see Catholic Encyclopedia above) I asked around in (see [1]) and it seems to be true that by simply scanning and polishing, you don't create a copyright in a public domain work. All you get is a copyright in the mark-up sugar you added, but the text itself can be cut out and used by us.

If we are bold enough, that is. --AxelBoldt

One person who claims to have helped transcribe some of those articles has some comments about the Catholic Encyclopedia here. To wit: "New Advent, the organization that maintains the Catholic Encyclopedia web site, claims the copyrights to the electronic version of the encyclopedia. I never signed away my rights to the articles I transcribed, so legally I do not know how they can claim copyright to my work. Perhaps they only claim copyright to the HTML markup of the header and footer. As far as I am concerned the actual texts of my transcriptions of Catholic Encyclopedia articles are public domain and anyone may copy them as he sees fit."

As various people have pointed out, simply transcribing a work in the public domain does not render it copyrightable, but that at least one of the workers didn't sign away his/her perceived "rights" seems to weaken New Advent's argument further. --KQ

About the Catholic Encyclopedia (Online and in Books) -- I'm fairly sure that the newadvent folks would *like* to have electronic copyright (whatever that means in distinction to page copyright?), but it was an explicit public domain enterprise. All it is is a transcription (scanning, typing, etc. - from personal experience I can tell you how poorly that typeface scanned!). It was all volunteer (I think the archdiocese of Denver pays for the computer storage - Kevin Knight was their computer guy and webmaster). I will point out that I myself never borrow without editing - it needs as much editing as the 1911 Book Whose Name is Never Mentioned. I never even cut and paste. But then I'm only working out of the Cath. Encyc. in areas in which I have enough competence to do the editing myself rather than doing it wholesale. One of my suggestions Kevin didn't take was doing a really comprehensive job of creating hyperlinks; the Cath Encyc online is very inconsistent about that --MichaelTinkler

If that's the case (that the text there is in fact nothing but a transcription of the PD 1911 text), then it certainly does qualify as an online PD resource. "Sweat of the brow" in scanning and editing is not protected by copyright--only original expression. I'm still reluctant to include it here, though, because even if the folks at newadvent have no legal claim of copyright, they can still cause trouble if they want to, and it is possible that listing it here as a resource will encourage someone to copy something from them that is copyrightable, such as their markup or selection or organization. --LDC

Well, Kevin Knight is a really nice guy, so if Larry were to ask, encyclopedist to encyclopedist... Their organization is, as far as I know, PURELY alphabetical. Would that matter to your point, Lee? There is markup, though. (There was talk of making topic pages to guide people through, but nothing came of it.) --MichaelTinkler

What do you suppose I should ask him? Just for permission to use it--or something else? I would certainly like us to feel free to use the Catholic Encyclopedia if it is public domain. --LMS
I think the question was (a) if it was public domain and then (b) if people could import articles from it the way folks are doing from Britannica. Me, I glance at 'em and rewrite, but there were a few things imported wholesale. I'm not sure we would WANT to import it wholesale - though strangely enough lots of the 'saint' entries were written or edited by Jesuit modernists (Herbert Thurston was the section editor's name, I believe), and are quite NPOV! I'm sure someone would be delighted to import the remaining 200 or so papal biographies if Kevin didn't mind. --MichaelTinkler
Right, but is this something that you want me to ask Kevin--(a) and (b), or what? --LMS at your service
I guess ask him both. (A) then (b)? Sorry. It's late (eastern time).
OK, I'm on it! --LMS

Regarding the entry in Wikipedia_NEWS about Andronicus of Rhodes being the last of the "EB" entries to be entered, and that completing the porting of that volume:

When I look at Britannica Public Domain/Status I see a *lot* of articles that have no entries. Granted, *some* of the entries from EB might be entered under different titles, but it strains credulity to say that all articles have been entered.

What is the measure for completeness used in making the claim made in Wikipedia_NEWS?

I don't know who entered the Wikipedia NEWS article. Mr. Millar announced on his own pages that he was done entering all of the ones he personally thought were relevant; perhaps someone mistakenly extrapolated from that. The Status page is accurate. --LDC

The public domain dictionary seems to be truly public domain. despite some confusing comments on the main page. The text seems to be ok for us to use. -- STG

This is incorrect. Here's a quote from their site:

The only usage conditions are that if the material is redistributed, the content (not the formatting) remain in the public domain (ie free) and that the content be easily accessible in non-encoded plain text format at no cost to the end user. The origin of the content should also be acknowledged, including OPTED, Project Gutenburg and the 1913 edition of Webster's Unabridged Dictionary. If the material is to be included in commercial products, Project Gutenburg should be contacted first. There are no restrictions for personal or research uses of this material.

These requirements are incompatible with our GFDL. We redistribute, but our content doesn't remain in the public domain, so we are in violation of the first condition. We cannot guarantee no cost either, since GDFL allows anyone to charge any amount for our material. Violation of condition two. Acknowledgements of origin can also not be guaranteed by us since anyone can edit out any attribution we might add. Violation of condition three. Material under GFDL may of course be included in commercial products such as Linux distributions, but this is forbidden under the above license. In fact, the above license is considerably more restrictive than GFDL and certainly far from public domain.

I would assume that Ralph Sutterland is willing to reissue the dictionary under GFDL, since the licenses are similar in spirit, but until he does so, we cannot legally use their material. --AxelBoldt

The contents of the 1913 Webster's Unabridged Dictionary itself ARE 100% public domain. Any statements to the contrary such as those on the site listed are so much hot air, and can be completely ignored. You can't put restrictions on the use of something you don't own. The only things he might be able to claim some control over are his markup and presentation, which we won't be using. --LDC
You can put restrictions on anything with shrink wrap or click through licenses: "By contacting this web site, you agree to use the materials you download from here only on Saturday afternoons and only for the following purposes...". I'm not suggesting that Ralph is doing that though. Why not simply ask him? --AxelBoldt
Actually no, you can't. You can ask people to abide by any terms you want--but the law will not enforce any terms you don't have a legal right to ask for. The text isn't his, period. He doesn't have any right to control what anyone does with it, even if they downloaded it from him, and even if he made them explicitly agree to some terms for downloading it. A contract must have a "legal purpose" to be valid--restricting someone's right to use public domain materials isn't a legal purpose. --LDC
I thought the "legal purpose" requirement meant that a contract can't have anything illegal as a purpose. Giving up the right to modify a public domain text is not illegal. Microsoft for example has shrink wrap licenses which require you to give up your right to publish benchmark tests. That's what contracts generally are: both parties give up a right that they otherwise would have. --AxelBoldt
That clause of Microsoft's contracts hasn't been tested in court yet, and will probably fail according to the opinions of lawyers I respect. But I suppose my argument doesn't quite cover all the cases, because you're right that you can voluntarily give up some rights in some contracts. I'm quite sure of the result--this has been well-tested in court; you cannot restrict someone's rights to use public domain works solely as a condition of your providing copies in some form. I'll come up with a cite if I can find it. I suppose "compensation" theory might be better: in the case, for example, of an employer restricting your speech, they are actually giving you something in exchange for your promise to forgo a right, while the site from which you download a text which is already yours as much much as it is his hasn't actually given you anything, so there is no compensation in the contract for your relinquishment of rights. As always, matters of law sometimes vary at the whim of judges, but we are fortunate to have a few good precedents on our side here. --LDC

I just found an online version of John James Audobon's Birds of America at The preface added by the webifier is a bit uncertain, but as far as I can understand this should be in the public domain. Audobon lived 1785-1851, and as far as I know the act of scanning and OCR isn't sufficient to add new copyright. Am I correct here? Should we start using material from this?

Yes, the act of scanning and OCR does not create a copyright; the webifier may have a copyright in the HTML markup he or she added; but if we cut and paste the text and disregard the markup, we are fine. This was discussed in this Usenet thread. However, it would probably still be polite to ask the person first. --AxelBoldt

Hello, I received the following response from

It's public domain information as long as it is taken in its entirety and we

would appreciate credit given. Any idea if those kinds of copyright terms (the entire thing is in the public domain; the individual parts are not) are even possible? I suspect that not; it sounds absurd and counterintuitive (though that wouldn't prevent the U.S. government from doing it). -- KQ

If they used tax dollars to produce and publish the information, then anything they claim about restrictions on use is just hot air. We paid for it, it belongs to us, not them. The United States Government and agencies thereof are not entitled to copyright protection for their works. They are entitled purchase or inherit copyrights, though, so if the material was produced by someone else and sold to the government, they might have some claim, but that doesn't appear to be the case here. --LDC

Question on trademarks in pictures, originally addressed to Alan Millar:

Thank you very much for the picture for the Harp article, but I'd like to put in a more updated one. If I took a picture of my harp and uploaded it, would it be under the copyright of Lyon and Healy, the maker of the harp? I know the company has patents on several of the parts of its harps, but could it have a copyright on the design? thanks! --dreamyshade

I'm not an expert in this area. I've been searching out explicitly public-domain images, to avoid such questions :-) Basically, as I understand it, there are three areas of intellectual property laws to be concerned with: copyright, trademark, and patents. If you use your own camera to take the picture, you are the copyright owner of that photograph and you can do with it as you please, so it is not a copyright problem. Patents would apply to actual manufacturing of a work-alike harp, so patent issues would not apply to pictures here. Trademarks may be a question, though, if the picture shows any logos or labels of the product. Can anyone comment further? --Alan Millar

A photograph taken by you of something you own (or of something in public view) is yours. You are free to explicitly disclaim your copyright, or assign it to Bomis, or to retain and place it here under the terms of the GPDL (which is the default if you don't specify). To be totally safe, you might put a text notice in a comment field of the picture (not on the picture where it's visible), so that even if you went away we'd know the source and could continue using it. Even a trademarked logo is no problem if you're not trying to use it to sell your own harps. The only thing you might ever have a problem with is the likeness of a person (since privacy laws would then come into play), but even then fair use would apply to using the picture on Wikipedia. --LDC