Legal Question in Intellectual Property in California

Digitized Public Domain

I bought digitized versions (PDF format) of a collection of 1899-1900 Sanborn maps from a seller (thus not work-for-hire). I assume that the maps are in the Public Domain. The digitized versions are merely copies of the originals.

May I copy these PDF's onto the internet? If not, can I translate them into a different digital format and post those?

Thank you.

Asked on 7/21/05, 4:31 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Jeff Lambert Attorney at Law

Re: Digitized Public Domain

Your question raises dual issues:

1. If the original maps have fallen in the public domain, they may be freely copied by anyone. However, you need to be absolutely sure about this fact.

2. Assuming they are in the public domain, you are free to post them on the internet in any form you want as long as: (a) you are not restricted from doing so under the terms of your sale agreement with the Seller; and (b) the Seller has not been vested with some form of copyright in the digitized versions--(i.e. if he/she provided a substantial level of tranformative value as part of the digitization.) For example, a song may be in the public domain, but a subsequent performer may hold a copyright in an original alternate arrangement of that same song, such that it may be subject to copyright protection.

You need to research whether the maps are in fact part of the public domain, and talk with the seller to make sure he is ok with you posting what you bought in digitized form (whether PDF or otherwise) on the internet. If these two items are clear, you should be ok.

As an aside, the fact that you purchased "copies" of the original, whether digitized, photocopies, or otherwise is irrelevant to your issue. Copyright law protects against unauthorized duplication, derivation, and distribution, among other things. So the fact that something is a "copy of a copy" is irrelevant if the reproduction was an infringement at any level.

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Answered on 7/21/05, 5:04 pm

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