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Core Copyright Concept:  Copyright Notice

By Dr. Elizabeth Townsend

Attached supplemental paper by Jessica Greenberg (Tulane Law School, Class of 2018)


What is notice?   We've all seen it.  It's that "c" in a circle, or "copyright".   For a lot of copyright history, notice was required in order to gain protection.  That changed in 1989.


A copyright notice is important.  It tells us who the copyright holder is, and when the work was first published.


(c) Jessica Greenberg, 2018.  


It puts us on notice that if we use this work and infringe, we are willful infringers.  The copyright notice put us on "notice" that the work was protected by copyright.


But today works are protected by copyright automatically.  So, even if it doesn't have notice, that doesn't mean a work is in the public domain.  


So, how to explain notice?  It's complicated.  The requirements change over time.


Old Stuff:  Two Categories


1964-March 1, 1989:  Domestic works (e.g. a postcard from New Orleans):  if there is no notice on the work -- no (c), name, and date (although sometimes its ok that there is no date), and it was first published in the United States, its in the public domain.  


This applies to fabric, images, books -- anything.  


If you find a notice, that's something else.  It could be under copyright.  


Works first published between 1923-1964.  They also required notice.  if you find something from this era without any copyright notice and it's been made available to the general public, it's in the public domain.


What if you find notice?  That's good too.  There are more steps to determine the copyright status of these works.  But for now, they have passed the notice test.


Should you put notice on your own works?


Yes!  If your 106 rights matter to you.  It alerts the world that you are going to protect and enforce your copyright.   Now, there are other options, like Creative Commons licenses.  But that's for another day.


What is "All Rights Reserved" next to the notice?

That is telling people that you are asserting your 106 rights, and that you as copyright holder want to control those rights -- making a derivative work, copying, etc.  Of course, there are exceptions to those rights, like fair use and library exceptions.  We'll get to that.


What about foreign works?

We do not require notice for works first publihsed abroad.  So, all of these rules apply only to domestic U.S. works.




Listen to our Discussion​

How does this apply to quilting?

Old stuff:  If you don't see notice on an image, frabic or other works and they were first published before March 1, 1989 and are U.S. (and not foreign works), they are in the public domain.


New stuff (since March 1, 1989).

  You can't have to have notice in order to have copyright protection anymore.  What notice does is makes anyone coming to the work aa willful infringer -- more naughty, which increases the statutory damages (if the work was registered) if the work ever goes to court.


What about patterns with notice?  Tells you the copyright holder cares.  For me, the next questions I ask -- what part of the pattern is protectable, and did the copyright holder/author register the pattern with the U.S. Copyright Office?  How truly serious are they in enforcing their rights, and what is protectable?  (We'll write about copyright and patterns soon).\


Fabric:  This is interesting.  Most litigation that makes into case law surrounding quilting has been over fabric. One fabric company uses another's design without permission.  In these cases, the courts have discussed the proper requirement for notice to be every 15 inches on the selvage (put in case). 


Notice gets interesting with consumers.  That means only 1/2 of fat quarters will likely have notice.  We also see restrictions on the notice like "For personal use only."  We are conducting a more sophisticated study on selvage notice and limitations.  For now, remember notice is not required for works first published after Feb 1989.



Patterns: We are also doing a separate study on notice on patterns  Stay turned.


For more on Notice, see Jessica Greenberg's paper.



Super Cool Trick

If you have materials in your collection that are domestic, published before March 1, 1989, and have no notice, they are in the public domain in the U.S.  This is a huge amount of materials, especially in archives.    Think of all the cool things you could use and find for quilts -- as long as they are domestic images that were circulated to the public with no notice before March 1989, the works are likely in the public domain.    


Curious where to find such images?  Local archives are a good place.  Old menus.  There's a menu project at New York Public Library.  A lot of old greeting cards and postcards, although some of those will have a proper copyright notice.  Old labels --a gain check to see if there is a copyright notice on the labels!  


So, there you go.  So many good, new public domain resources. The Jazz Archive t Tulane University is filled with cool stuff.   Can you say, "Field trip"?

Resources for more information:

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