Author Topic: Are ideas in publications copyrighted?  (Read 343 times)

Descartes

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Are ideas in publications copyrighted?
« on: September 09, 2021, 12:07:50 PM »
This is a fair use/copyright question.

There is a book out there that is quasi-scholarly; built upon research of the author but written to be read by a wide audience. The subject of the book is a certain type of workplace conflict and the book is mostly anecdotes mixed with light research (e.g. "In fact, in 80% of the cases I examined, the person involved was fired with no warning".)

I find the topic very important and have witnessed myself some of what the book talks about.  A lot of what he writes can be observed by experienced people, so I'm not sure a lot of the book is groundbreaking, it's just compiled with some concrete suggestions.

I have thought about designing a seminar for organizations on this topic (for profit) and I contacted the author to ask about getting their blessing and working together.  The response answered none of my questions and was a curt "the work is copyrighted and may not be reproduced."

After thinking about it, I'm not sure I even need permission to do this.  After all, college classes are taught everyday using textbooks as material, and I'd be adding my own insights and thoughts as well, and maybe some from other sources. Further, even if they could try to claim their ideas are copyrighted, what would stop me from talking about my own experiences and just adding "this phenomenon has been seen before; [author] wrote about it and said ..."

Am I correct? Does anyone have any idea?

dismalist

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Re: Are ideas in publications copyrighted?
« Reply #1 on: September 09, 2021, 12:27:19 PM »
That's an interesting question, so I googled around [again].

The concise principles of Fair Use legal stuff are worth knowing:

"To evaluate whether a particular usage of a copyrighted work qualifies as fair, a court will consider four things:

    -the purpose and character of the use, including whether it's of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
    -the nature of the copyrighted work
   - the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, and
    -the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work."

[I hope that citation falls under Fair Use. :-)]

Here is much practical detail from American U [nothing to do with me]:

https://www.american.edu/library/documents/upload/copyright_for_teaching.pdf
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Vkw10

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Re: Are ideas in publications copyrighted?
« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2021, 10:09:23 PM »
Fair use is a multi-part test, as dismalist  noted. It’s a balancing act. Copyright doesn’t protect facts; you can’t copyright a phone directory, because it’s just a compilation of facts. Copyright does protect the expression of ideas.

I could give a fee-based seminar on personal finance. I could mention ideas from Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I can’t build my seminar around Rich Dad, Poor Dad, replicating the structure and repeating the stories. I would need to use it as one of several sources.

Having asked the author about using his book, you need to be cautious. Your query is evidence that you planned to build your seminars on the author’s book. Be careful.

Textbooks aren’t a great anology. They’re intended for classroom use and each student should be buying a copy.
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adel9216

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Re: Are ideas in publications copyrighted?
« Reply #3 on: September 10, 2021, 07:07:18 AM »
Fair use is a multi-part test, as dismalist  noted. It’s a balancing act. Copyright doesn’t protect facts; you can’t copyright a phone directory, because it’s just a compilation of facts. Copyright does protect the expression of ideas.

I could give a fee-based seminar on personal finance. I could mention ideas from Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I can’t build my seminar around Rich Dad, Poor Dad, replicating the structure and repeating the stories. I would need to use it as one of several sources.

Having asked the author about using his book, you need to be cautious. Your query is evidence that you planned to build your seminars on the author’s book. Be careful.

Textbooks aren’t a great anology. They’re intended for classroom use and each student should be buying a copy.

Agreed.

marshwiggle

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Re: Are ideas in publications copyrighted?
« Reply #4 on: September 10, 2021, 07:13:29 AM »

Having asked the author about using his book, you need to be cautious. Your query is evidence that you planned to build your seminars on the author’s book. Be careful.


Here's where I think this comes in:


I find the topic very important and have witnessed myself some of what the book talks about.  A lot of what he writes can be observed by experienced people, so I'm not sure a lot of the book is groundbreaking, it's just compiled with some concrete suggestions.


I would guess that the more of the examples you give are from the book, and the more of the suggestions you give are from the book, the more problematic it becomes. If you have many of your own (or others') examples and suggestions, so the book is really only one of many sources, you are probably OK.
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Vkw10

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Re: Are ideas in publications copyrighted?
« Reply #5 on: September 11, 2021, 12:11:19 AM »

Having asked the author about using his book, you need to be cautious. Your query is evidence that you planned to build your seminars on the author’s book. Be careful.


Here's where I think this comes in:


I find the topic very important and have witnessed myself some of what the book talks about.  A lot of what he writes can be observed by experienced people, so I'm not sure a lot of the book is groundbreaking, it's just compiled with some concrete suggestions.


I would guess that the more of the examples you give are from the book, and the more of the suggestions you give are from the book, the more problematic it becomes. If you have many of your own (or others') examples and suggestions, so the book is really only one of many sources, you are probably OK.

Agreed. Our copyright librarian says 10% is general guideline for fair use in copying a book. If I want to copy more than 10% to use with students, I need to request permission and be ready to pay licensing fee.
Enthusiasm is not a skill set. (MH)

dr_codex

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Re: Are ideas in publications copyrighted?
« Reply #6 on: September 11, 2021, 04:53:27 AM »

Having asked the author about using his book, you need to be cautious. Your query is evidence that you planned to build your seminars on the author’s book. Be careful.


Here's where I think this comes in:


I find the topic very important and have witnessed myself some of what the book talks about.  A lot of what he writes can be observed by experienced people, so I'm not sure a lot of the book is groundbreaking, it's just compiled with some concrete suggestions.


I would guess that the more of the examples you give are from the book, and the more of the suggestions you give are from the book, the more problematic it becomes. If you have many of your own (or others') examples and suggestions, so the book is really only one of many sources, you are probably OK.

Agreed. Our copyright librarian says 10% is general guideline for fair use in copying a book. If I want to copy more than 10% to use with students, I need to request permission and be ready to pay licensing fee.

I would be very cautious about the 10% figure. Reproducing for non-commercial and educational fair use is very different from commercial use. You'd be wise to consult an intellectual property lawyer. (I'm not one.)
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Kron3007

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Re: Are ideas in publications copyrighted?
« Reply #7 on: September 11, 2021, 06:59:26 AM »
I'm no expert on this, but I don't see any real copyright issue unless you are directly using their text, images, etc. Provided you attribute any examples they use and paraphrase, I don't see the problem (assuming it is not your only source).


Liquidambar

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Re: Are ideas in publications copyrighted?
« Reply #8 on: September 11, 2021, 10:39:26 AM »
Why can't you give all participants a copy of the book as part of the seminar?  (And fold that into the price, obviously.)  Then everyone can refer to it as needed, and the author should be happy because of more book sales.
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Vkw10

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Re: Are ideas in publications copyrighted?
« Reply #9 on: September 11, 2021, 04:24:47 PM »

I would be very cautious about the 10% figure. Reproducing for non-commercial and educational fair use is very different from commercial use. You'd be wise to consult an intellectual property lawyer. (I'm not one.)

Good point. The 10% figure is based on specific circumstances.

Why can't you give all participants a copy of the book as part of the seminar?  (And fold that into the price, obviously.)  Then everyone can refer to it as needed, and the author should be happy because of more book sales.

Another time to consult lawyer first. Does the author have any rights to profit from and control fee-based seminars based on his work? People like Edward Tufte charge substantial fees for seminars that include a set of their books, so I suspect there are legal reasons that others aren’t giving fee-based seminars based on Tufte’s work.
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Caracal

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Re: Are ideas in publications copyrighted?
« Reply #10 on: September 13, 2021, 11:07:58 AM »
After all, college classes are taught everyday using textbooks as material,

Right, but those uses are non-profit and educational. Just being in a classroom doesn't mean copyright doesn't apply, but there's a stronger presumption of fair use.

The other relevant difference is the effect of the use on the market or value of the original work. If I take some slides from a textbook or base part of a lecture on some text from it, it would be hard to argue that the textbook authors and publisher are suffering any harm. If I didn't use the slide, I wouldn't have required the students to buy the textbook.

If I didn't have students purchase a textbook and instead spent every class just reading the textbook and going through slides from it, that would be a problem.

In your case, you would be trying to make money and it certainly seems possible that these seminars might reduce the value of the original work. It could still fall under fair use but it would depend on the other factors, like how much you are using of the original work and how original the work really is.

Descartes

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Re: Are ideas in publications copyrighted?
« Reply #11 on: September 13, 2021, 08:50:37 PM »
Thanks, all.

Without saying too much, the whole project is so anecdotal and even the solutions offered so common sense, I can probably just legitimately write my own book/seminar material without much problem, perhaps alluding to this work in very small doses as a source.

To make an analogy, it would be like someone writing a book on difficult students and students who beg for inflated grades. The book might be full of anecdotal stories about times it happened to the author, with a set of "action steps to resolve it when it happens," like "talk to the chair immediately and find out whether they'll support you."  That would be a helpful book for brand new faculty, to be sure - but is it really something one could copyright? Ten other people could also write that book and just use their own stories.  This project is kind of like that.

dr_codex

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Re: Are ideas in publications copyrighted?
« Reply #12 on: September 14, 2021, 04:51:04 AM »
Thanks, all.

Without saying too much, the whole project is so anecdotal and even the solutions offered so common sense, I can probably just legitimately write my own book/seminar material without much problem, perhaps alluding to this work in very small doses as a source.

To make an analogy, it would be like someone writing a book on difficult students and students who beg for inflated grades. The book might be full of anecdotal stories about times it happened to the author, with a set of "action steps to resolve it when it happens," like "talk to the chair immediately and find out whether they'll support you."  That would be a helpful book for brand new faculty, to be sure - but is it really something one could copyright? Ten other people could also write that book and just use their own stories.  This project is kind of like that.

This is the old ideas/expression distinction, which is very important in copyright and patent law. Googling that phrase gives lots of information. Basically, you cannot copyright the story of Hamlet; you can, however, copyright your own version of the story.

I would get the opinion of a lawyer before proceeding, especially for any for-profit activity. It's just not the same as using some somebody's material in a classroom.
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