Saturday, June 22, 2024

Quod Scripsi, Scripsi... But Is it Copyrightable?

 "What I have written, I have written," (and by implication, I will not revise it behind the scenes in order to please critics).

Earlier this week, I was reminded of what Pontius Pilate--incumbent of the least coveted diplomatic posting in the Roman Empire at the time-- said when some community leaders objected to the wording of a notice that he had posted.

In my case, as a volunteer, I'd written some Minutes for a small company, and someone --who had not been at the meeting in question-- asked for the .docx so she could revise my Minutes.

I responded with a slighly less disobliging version of "Quod scripsi, scripsi" and I did not have to get into the weeds of whether what I had written was copyright-protected.

For any reader interested in Board Minutes, here are some excellent links.

However, I did wonder about whether or not Board or Annual General Meeting minutes are in fact copyright-protected.

 "Work is factual: In contrast to use of a creative work, use of a factual work is more likely to be fair. Facts themselves are not copyrightable. Factual works that are on the fringe of copyright, such as meeting minutes, have thinner protection."
Thinly, apparently.

Laundry lists, shopping lists, recipes, personal letters may all be copyright-protected, depending on how creative they are, and how much unique expression goes into the sharing of non-copyrightable lists of factual information.

For writers who become famous, the letters they pen may one day be very valuable indeed. Remember that copyright belongs to the writer, not to the recipient of a letter. Therefore, in your estate planning, decide who should own the copyright of any letters you have written... just in case.

Had I been an employee, say of a Management Company, my Minutes would have been done in the course of my employment, as part of my job, and the Minutes would have been "work for hire."

Legal bloggers for Venable LLP (one of my favorite blogging law firms), Armand J. (AJ) Zottola and Benjamin J. Myers are writing in two parts "Understanding the Work Made For Hire Doctrine."

Read Part 1 (of Understanding Work Made For Hire) here:

Part 2 will focus on specially commissioned works, but Part 1 explains the doctrine and defines who is an employer, who is an employee, and why and when the copyright of works created by an employee in the course of employment belongs to the employer.

Of course, the "Work For Hire" doctrine does not just apply to the written word. If one were a designer working for a car company (drawings), or a coder working for a tech business, ones work product would also belong to the company.

Legal blogger Paul Matenaer of the Michael Best law firm discusses trouble within the entertainment industry (not a new topic, but always entertaining) when it comes to sequels and remakes, especially when the original author of a screenplay is not employed or compensated for the spin-off works, even when the original author (or the passage of time) might have terminated the original contract or grant of copyright.
Follow the link for the yet-to-be-resolved story. And, for any author whose book (or books) have been optioned, or may be optioned in the future, take a lesson from the current state of the law and the major players attempts to cut out original writers down the road... and don't cut corners on legal help with Hollywood or Amazon contracts!

All the best,

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