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Public Domain Art Question

Daniel asks…

If I publish a book from contents that is clearly marked public domain, can I copyright it?

The contents is clearly marked public domain and free to use. I would like to publish it as hard copy and include further original content along with it. Can I copyright the resulting book? Is there some ratio of original content to public domain content that must be met before it can be copyrighted?

scottparat answers:

It sounds like you’re looking to protect a derivative work. Here’s what the US Copyright Office has to say:

“A “derivative work,” that is, a work that is based on (or derived from) one or more already existing works, is copyrightable if it includes what the copyright law calls an “original work of authorship.” Derivative works, also known as “new versions,” include such works as translations, musical arrangements, dramatizations, fictionalizations, art reproductions, and condensations. Any work in which the editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications represent, as a whole, an original work of authorship is a “derivative work” or “new version.”

A typical example of a derivative work received for registration in the Copyright Office is one that is primarily a new work but incorporates some previously published material. This previously published material makes the work a derivative work under the copyright law.”

Hope that helps!

Donald asks…

Is it within the public domain?

I want to refer to paintings (by title and artist) in a fictional book I am writing. Are they public domain (regardless of their age or popularity) or do I need permission to refer to them?

And if I CAN refer to them, is the proper usage to put the title within parentheses or should the title be italicized, or neither?

scottparat answers:

I don’t think just referring to them warrants any footnote, citation, or anything. If you use the pictures, then it depends on the picture.

I am quite sure that you are free to refer to the title and author of a book, a movie, a piece of art, etc without any fear of copyright violation.

God bless

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