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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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January 7, 2011

Copyrights in a List

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

A list that is a mere compilation is generally not copyrightable. However, various specialized lists can be copyrighted either by virtue of their arrangement (e.g. lists of court cases) or by virtue of their unusual content.

A few days ago Eugene Volokh pointed to a (dare I use the word) unique list - Schindler's List - and a copyright dispute surrounding it. Volokh quotes extensively from the court's decision in the case, known as Rosenberg v. Zimet which concerns questions of who holds copyright in that famous list.

I had thought that the only copy of the List was at the Holocaust Museum in Israel. It turns out that another List had been found and the question at hand is whether the person in possession of that List may publish or sell it, or whether it rightfully belongs to Schindler's heir, as one of his possessions. The Court's decision turns on questions of different varieties of copyright law (common law vs federal) and whether any rights to publication carry with possession of the list, which it seems clear they do not.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Laws and Regulations


COMMENTS

1. Anonymous on January 8, 2011 11:36 AM writes...

Hello, first sale? If he is in lawful physical possession of a copy, surely he can give away or sell THAT COPY, so the only question should be whether he can make and distribute additional copies (or have such published by someone).

Of course one must question whether a copyright incentive was needed to create the list; whether a copyright from prior to 1950 that has presumably not been registered and renewed would have expired; and whether something whose copyright presumably came into existence in Nazi Germany(!), a state that no longer exists, can possibly still be copyrighted if the copyright law and entire country where it was created are long gone. Nevermind the question you raised of whether a list lacking much original expression can be copyrighted.

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2. Bruce B. on February 24, 2011 4:16 PM writes...

I think that since Nazi Germany is no longer an active state, no one has claim to its rights except for the owner, which is a sticky issue. I doubt very seriously that there was an incentive to copyright that list (seeing as how this regime anticipated Global domination), but if there was any other factor being left out, it is Germany. Germany as a state has the right to any Nazi property and it is up to that state to do what they see fit with the list.

Hitler is long gone yet his paintings only recently went up for auction.The same could be said for this list, no auction of course.

If the German government wanted to keep the list for its own reasons or sell it to, let's say--the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., then they can do that as well. But I digress, the list is not in their hands so the question turns now turns to the owner. What will that person do with it? What incentive is needed for the owner to sell the list or sell the copies or the merely hand it over?

These are hard questions to answer due to the fact that we are uncertain this document is protected under copyright (though I cannot imagine why it would be). Surely this is a unique case, which further complicates things, given the fact that interpreting, applying and enforcing copyright law is a task within itself.

Permalink to Comment

3. Alan Wexelblat on February 27, 2011 8:00 PM writes...

I'm not sure why Germany would own rights in a list created in this way. If the state had ordered that the list be created I could see that. But my understanding is that he created the list as a side effect of his work, not as a product for the state. Therefore, I'm not sure what claim the state itself would have.

However, I know even less about this kind of law than about copyright law so who's to say.

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