More copyright, curses curses

I don’t believe that the text of ancient literature can be in copyright.  Publishers claim otherwise, but as far as I know these claims have not been tested in court. The idea is a shameful abuse of copyright law; like claiming copyright of Shakespear.  Unfortunately once money is involved, it seems more prudent for a little chap like me to pay them than pay lawyers.

My remaining copyright issue concerns the fragments from Jerome’s Commentary on Matthew, and those from Anastasius of Sinai, Quaestiones et responsiones.

The critical edition of the Jerome is Hieronymus, Commentariorum in Matheum libri IV. Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 77 Turnhout, Brepols, 1969.  The extracts printed by Mai are about 500 words in total.

The critical edition of the Anastasius is Anastasii Sinaitae Quaestiones et responsiones, Corpus Christianorum, Series Graeca 59. Ed. Marcel Richard; Joseph A Munitiz. Turnhout : Brepols, 2006.  There are three extracts, two from Q.153 and one from Q.148, in total 581 words.

Both are owned by Brepols, the big Belgian publisher.  It is a great pity that the founder of the Corpus Christianorum, Dom Dekkers, is no longer with us.  But I will write to them and see if they will agree not to sue me if I use their version of the original text for these extracts. 

If not, or if they want more than a nominal sum, I will print Mai’s text with an apparatus of the differences and a note as to why.  But … who knows?  I have had very good experiences with publishers so far.

10 thoughts on “More copyright, curses curses

  1. The critical edition of Hieronymus by Brepols is now in the public domain. Belgium is part of the EU, and it is EU law that scientific/critical editions of text, which are otherwise in the public domain, are only protected for a maximum of 30 years counting from the year of the first publication; cf. Copyright Duration Directive (93/98/EEC), article 5. If Brepols say it’s still copyrighted, they are lying to you.

    Concerning Anastasius, that edition will be in the public domain on 1 January 2037, unless Belgian law warrants protection for less than 30 years. But if you only want to use parts of the critical edition, you are probably covered by the right of quotation, if you actually use it for your own research, if it’s used to support your own publication. If you just want to publish the text and the apparatus, without embedding it in your own scientific work, you’re of course not allowed to.

  2. Hans, this is most interesting, and I appreciate the detail.

    Brepols are indeed claiming copyright, and I have a long although friendly email from Bart Janssens of Brepols which is unspecific but claims copyright is theirs. It also makes a long list of things they want me to specify before they will tell me their offer.

    I’m not sure about Anastasius and his status, I have to say. I want to use 3 fragments, totalling 500 words. Is there a right of quotation? Would I qualify?

    Luckily I am not a scholar and I do not HAVE to deal with them. The best thing is probably to tell Brepols that I am not interested, use Migne with some footnotes — the differences between Migne and CCSL amount to 5 words! — and add a footnote saying why I didn’t use the Brepols texts (which will both amuse or sadden Dom Dekkers, the founder of the Corpus Christianorum, where he is now). They want me to do some hours of identifying material by page and line number in their books (which I haven’t seen) before they will talk numbers, which is depressing, and will probably kill things dead by itself. I mean… 500 words — does it matter which ones? 🙁

    One interesting thing he did say is that an English translation of Anastasius is contemplated. That is the one good thing to learn from all this.

  3. If there’s just a difference of 5 words, then you can use the Migne and add a note, in which you quote the 5-word-difference to CCSL. This is most definitely okay under quotation rights. If that weren’t allowed, they’d have to close down Wikipedia. 😉 (But see below!)

    As for Hieronymus, I didn’t find any reference to the EEC directive in Belgian copyright law, only a passus on the editio princeps, which is a related issue:

    Art. 2 §6. Any person who, after expiry of the protection by copyright lawfully publishes or lawfully communicates to the public for the first time a previously unpublished work, receives protection equivalent to the rights of the author. The duration of protection of these rights is twenty-five years from the time when for the first time the work was lawfully published or lawfully communicated to the public.

    There is now a new EEC directive — —, which says in Article 5:

    Critical and scientific publications
    Member States may protect critical and scientific publications of works which have come into the public domain. The maximum term of protection of such rights shall be 30 years from the time when the publication was first lawfully published.

    It clearly says “may protect”, not “shall”/”must”. Until today many EU member states have not granted copyright protection for critical/scientific publications of works otherwise in the public domain. And since the Belgian copyright law does not mention protection of “éditions critiques et scientifiques”, then it could even be possible that also the 2006 Anastasius is in the public domain, *provided* that it is *not* an editio princeps, in which case it is protected for 25 years.

    Belgian copyright law:

  4. Your thoughts and mine, on the 5 words. I didn’t know these critical texts existed, when the translation was made, so all my stuff is done from out-of-copyright material. So… why would I want to pay them much if anything for 10 words? After all, I have shoals of fragments in this thing.

    I did the comparison on the Jerome myself, and indeed blogged on how few differences there were. I haven’t seen the Anastasius yet, but I doubt it’s any more; both are only a page and a half in Mai anyway, about 500 words, so I imagine the Anastasius is also a matter of half a dozen words difference.

    So… I don’t really care if Brepols decide to be difficult. I will try and publish how I get on, tho. I think the attitude of the owner of the Corpus Christianorum should be public knowledge, whatever position that is.

  5. Hans, if I understand what you are saying, then wouldn’t any edition of a text in the Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller series or the Source Chretiennes series be in the public domain as long as they were published before 1980? Almost all of these should be considered critical editions of a text.

  6. Brepols are saying that there was a case in Germany where someone printed a German translation of one of the ancient texts published by them without permission and the court ruled in Brepols favour. The lawyers ended up collating the text for the court. It would be interesting to know more details of this one.

  7. It all depends on whether we’re talking about the publication of a critical edition of a text that is already in the public domain, or of an editio princeps. If I read Brepols online information correctly, these texts have been not only critically re-examined, but also published in this form for the first time, i.e. that previous editions were incomplete. That would definitely give Brepols a 25-year protection under Belgian law (editio princeps). If it’s just a critical edition of PD material then you have to find someone who can tell you if the Belgian state ever implemented the EEC directive (max. of 30 years for critical editions.) If not, then the text would be public domain. But the fact that it’s not printed in their copyright law doesn’t mean that there is no amendment in this respect.

    For the Hieronymus text it would also be necessary to know when the editio princeps passus was added to Belgian copyright law. If it was added after 1969, then—provided that it had no retroactive effect (which is unlikely)—the Hieronymus text might have received full copyright… or none at all!

  8. It’s all interesting. What it highlights is that we need a copyright lawyer. If I were a rich man, I’d do us all a service and ensure that the copyright reflected better the rights of both sides; of publishers to get a reasonable return on specialist work, yes; but also of the public not to be faced with a perpetual copyright of ancient texts.

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