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How can a man who died in the 1870s still be in copyright?

Posted: Tue Jun 19, 2012 5:49 pm
by jennym
I am trying to understand copyright law - but I'm only on the first step, so please forgive me.

How can a book being sold on Amazon as:

Letter on Corpulence by William Banting (Apr 15, 2005)

When William Banting died in in 1879 (William Banting (1796-1878)

Publisher Cosimo Classics (April 15, 2005)

ISBN-10 1596050853

I can understand it if new text has been added. But then why would they say the author is William Banting?

Suppose it is possible that there is new text added by his G G Grandson?

Thanks in advance for any enlightenment!

Posted: Tue Jun 19, 2012 10:38 pm
by AndyJ
Hi Jenny,
Yes it is all a bit confusing, but once you understand there are two different types of copyright here, it's a bit simpler.
Anything written by William Banting is now out of copyright, and anyone can publish his work. This particular edition by Cosimo attracts a shorter form of copyright (only 25 years from the end of the year of publication) which is explained in Section 8 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act:
8 Published editions.

(1) In this Part “published edition”, in the context of copyright in the typographical arrangement of a published edition, means a published edition of the whole or any part of one or more literary, dramatic or musical works.

(2) Copyright does not subsist in the typographical arrangement of a published edition if, or to the extent that, it reproduces the typographical arrangement of a previous edition.
So you or anyone else may freely use the text by Bunting, but you can't reproduce the typographical layout produced by Cosimo.

Posted: Wed Jun 20, 2012 1:00 am
by jennym
AndyJ thank you for your reply.

Yes it is confusing, I didn't realise there are different types of copyright.

Just to be clear,

1) I can photocopy pages from the original book and distribute

2) I can retype the wording and distribute


I cannot photocopy Cosimo's copy, or use their layout?


If I typed the original text, and formatted it into the most basic format, I wouldn't be breaking any copyright laws?

Posted: Wed Jun 20, 2012 7:27 am
by AndyJ
Hi Jenny,
Yes all of what you have said would be OK, although you would need to check carefully that the Cosimo edition did not include any significant editorial changes, before retyping it.
It is possible that if there are significant editorial changes this could amount to a new copyright work, based on a decision in a case known as Hyperion Records v Sawkins. However if there is just minor tidying up or some abridgement, I think that would be unlikely to meet the Hyperion standard for additional creativity.
If you have a copy of the original published edition, that would be the safest source to use.

Posted: Wed Jun 20, 2012 8:02 am
by jennym
Andy, thank you for your explanation :)

Does the 70 year rule apply to all written copy?

Posted: Thu Aug 29, 2013 1:10 pm
by dquelhas
This is really interesting. Does this mean I can type any old book (over 70 years old) and re-publish it? Is this an international law? Is it applicable to the UK?

Sorry for the amount of questions, I just started trying to learn a bit of copyright :)

Posted: Thu Aug 29, 2013 3:55 pm
by AndyJ
Hi dquelhas,

No, it is not a matter of when the book was published, unless the author is anonymous or wrote under a pseudonym.
The length of copyright is determined - in almost all countries - by when the author died, and then adding either 50 or 70 years to the end of the year in which they died. 70 years applies throughout the European Union (except Cyprus), the USA and many other 'western' countries. (full details here)
What was being discussed earlier in this thread was a special form of copyright which belongs to a publisher and occurs when a new published edition is put on sale even though the underlying work is itself out of copyright. This type of copyright only protects the typographical layout of that particular edition, so re-typing the text and re-publishing it using a different layout, font etc does not infringe the copyright of the publisher.
There is one other case where copyright may be revived long after an author has died, and that concerns a work which has come out of copyright but which was never published during the author's lifetime. It is known as publication right. For reasons too complicated to go into here, these will be very rare cases, and where it applies, the publisher gains full copyright (ie the same rights as a copyright owner) for 25 years following publication. In such cases it would be infringement to re-publish the work within the 25 year period even if the typographical layout was different.