encyclopedia -- public domain

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  • Do encyclopedias follow the same rules as books for entering the public domain? I have been searching the library of congress catalog to see if this one particular one is in the public domain but searching with the title and editors come up with nothing.
    Thanks much.
  • The simple answer to your question is probably BUT since encyclopedias are usually published annually there might be a current edition within the copyright limit. How do you want to use the information? While we do not give legal opinions here at the Network, someone may be able to guide you better with a few more detais.
  • Looking at your question from a librarian's viewpoint (and not from a lawyer's), the copyright status of an Encyclopedia would depend on the nature and ownership of its contents and how and when the Encylopedia and its contents were registered for copyright protection. The answer to this question could therefore get rather complicated.

    An encyclopedia is different from the typical book because the encyclopedia comprises a collection of separate and independent works that may be individually protectable. The editor(s) responsible for compiling these separate works into the encyclopedia may be someone OTHER than the author(s) of the articles themselves. Presumably, the editor obtained permission to reproduce these separate works or acquired the rights for the material. In any event, the copyright status of each separate work may differ from each other, and from the work as a whole, depending on its date of creation or publication, authorship, and so on.

    It might be noted that some types of Encyclopedia contents would not be protectable in the first place. Facts and public domain materials are simply not eligible for copyright protection.

    The Encyclopedia itself could be protectable as a ‘Compilation’ only if the editor exercised creativity and judgement in the selection and arrangement of the articles. According to the US Copyright Office (http://www.copyright.gov/register/literary.html):

    A “compilation” is a work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that are selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship.

    Copyright protection would extend to the editor’s ‘added-value’, not to the articles themselves. The copyright status of the compilation would therefore depend on the date of its publication and other details that may be gleaned from its copyright registration. If the Encyclopedia was registered as a compilation (using Form TX, for Non-dramatic Literary Works), the applicant had to specifically identify the work as a ‘compilation’, ‘arrangement’ or ‘selection’.

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