Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Question for the Legal Eagles

Earlier today I published a letter written by William Lindsay Gresham. In the comments, someone said that the contents of the letter belonged to Gresham's heirs rather than the owner of the letter. I thought that copyright material, such as that in a letter, created between 1923 and 1962 (as Gresham's letter was) was now in public domain. Just to be on the safe side, I took down the post. Anybody know for sure about the public domain status? Thanks.

4 comments:

  1. First, the owner of the letter owns the letter, but not the contents. That's owned by the writer, or his estate. Right on that point.

    Regarding the letter, I'm not sure. J.D. Salinger sued over his letters quoted in a biography of his and won (the next edition the author had to summarize the contents). Certainly anything before 1923 is fair game. I'm not sure otherwise.

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  2. Bill beat me to it, but I was going to mention the J.D. Salinger ruling. I'm not sure that things had ever been defined prior to his lawuit, but now, apparently, the recipient of the letter owns the physical letter, the writer owns the words.

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  3. The key to the Salinger case, I believe, is that Salinger registered his letters for copyright protection after he found out about the bio. I suppose that means he renewed the copyright. I doubt that Gresham did.

    I also wonder about "Letters of Note" and many other similar sites on the Internet.

    However, I'm staying on the safe side for now.

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  4. I would guess that Sara Jane Boyers, who lists her credentials as an intellectual property attorney (retired), would know the answer to this question. Or maybe her husband, Steven R. Boyers, who is a practicing attorney, would know.

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