dictionary pronunciation key

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  • I was wondering if the dictionary's pronunciation key was protected by copyright and if the pronunciation help they put next to each word was protected too? For example, when they put [kop-ee-rahyt] next to the word copyright, would I be able to use the help in brackets, for example, on a personal website?
  • I can see a couple of ways to argue that what you suggest would not be infringement.

    First, if you take and reuse only a few such pronunciation keys from an original source, fair use might well apply. You would need to consider the purpose of your use, the amount you are taking from the original source and the impact your use could have on the market for the original.

    As for the second fair use factor -- the nature of the original work -- it appears to me that the pronunciation keys are pretty much factual works and would get only a "thin" protection, so this factor seems to favor fair use.

    In fact, the nature of the work brings me to the other argument for your proposed use -- that the keys are not protectable expression at all. The issue would be originality; are these pronunciation guides sufficiently original to be protected by copyright? On the one hand, the pronunciation guides are not based on any standard "alphabet" and do differ from dictionary to dictionary. The ancient American Heritage Dictionary I have had on my desk since high school has a slightly different key for pronouncing "copyright" than the one you use to illustrate your question. But I would argue that there are relatively few ways to express the pronunciation of words (the differences are very slight indeed) and that the ways to write those pronunciations are relatively standardized. Thus the "doctrine of merger" could apply to show that idea and expression are too closely merged in this case to permit copyright protection.
  • I would probably be using a lot of them. I don't care about the pronunciation key as much as I do the help in brackets (the ones with no symbols) listed next to each word. What I would actually like to use them for is hard to pronunce names...

    It is for a personal website...

    I thought about some of things you said above; some dictionaries vary slightly in the way they think words (or names) should be pronounced. But they are never trying to be creative; they generally represent the way the majority of society is pronuncing things and therefore are more of a standard. And you're right: There are few ways to express pronunciation of words and so doctrine of merger should apply.

    But then I am thinking that definitions are kinda like that too. And I know those are protected. But there are many ways to define a word, I suppose compared to a the way a word/name is pronunced.

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