How Do You Infringe The Copyright Of Public Domain Works?
from the strange-legal-rulings dept
And here’s another fun copyright mystery from William Patry: it turns out that some courts have constructed a rather convoluted rationale for how you can still be found to be infringing copyrights, even on material that everyone admits is public domain. While it’s rare, he cites two such cases, suggesting that both have rather tortured logic behind them. The first involves a play which was later turned into a movie. While the play remained under copyright, the separate copyright of the movie was not renewed in a timely manner, allowing it to fall into the public domain. Yet, because of the remaining copyright on the play, a court determined that the movie could not be distributed, since it retained some elements directly from the play.
Even if you can sort of understand the reasoning for that one, it’s hard to figure out the reasoning behind the second case. In this one, a bunch of episodes from “The Andy Griffith” show fell into the public domain. However, it was just a bunch of episodes from later seasons. Earlier seasons remained under copyright. The court ruled that since the later shows were based on the earlier shows that were still covered by copyright, the later shows could not be distributed freely. This seems like a rather perverse interpretation of copyright law.
But, of course, when you have people viewing copyrights not as an incentive to create, but as a kind of “property” over which you have total control, these types of rulings are bound to occur. The default is quite often going to be to lean towards more control, even if the sensible decision both under the law and for society is to allow the content to really become a part of the public domain.