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[d@DCC] Copyright, eBooks & Public Domain Sources

From: Ron Koster <ron _-at-_>
To: discuss (at)
Date: Sun, 2 Oct 2016 21:41:55 -0400

Hi everyone!

Thank you for allowing me to join your forum here. I'm a small, 
one-person publisher of ebooks with a handful of books under my belt so 
far, and I joined this forum in the hopes of resolving a number of 
questions that have come up on another epublishing forum that I'm on 
over which there seem to be varying opinions on what is copyrightable 
and what is not.

This questions arose essentially over discussions about a book I've been 
working on in recent months, namely, a collection of Shakespeare's 
works. My book includes six of his plays, plus several of his poems 
(plus the sonnets, complete), and in addition to those works of his I've 
also included one poem by Thomas Middleton, as well as the entire, 
complete book called "Loves Martyr" by Robert Chester (both from that 
same Elizabethan period as Shakespeare). The goal of my books has been 
to replicate, in digital format (as an ebook), the "look and feel" of 
those early texts. Thus, the Shakespeare works haven't been modernized, 
but rather instead arose from those original 16th and 17th century 
sources (such as the First Folio edition), and I've used an old-style 
font embedded in my book and things are all typeset to look like a book 
from that period (i.e. with the "long-S" and other anomalies).

Naturally, all these works are currently in the public domain -- at 
least, the original source material is -- however, I've pored over about 
half of the texts and made revisions and corrections. Those early 
printers made a LOT of errors! And I don't just mean "funny spellings" 
of words -- I don't count those as errors -- but actual, genuine 
mistakes by the printer, some of which are quite obvious, while others 
are rather more obscure. I do have a veritable lifetime of experience in 
researching the early history of printed books, and so for me these 
latter were easy to pick out.

As such, these are no longer the "original" public domain texts, but 
rather newly revised and corrected versions of them -- and this is where 
there are some questions which have arisen on that other forum (with 
various, and conflicting, understandings of what the law actually is).

Firstly, because my versions of Shakespeare's works are now "revised" 
and "corrected," surely they would then be my own copyright (despite the 
original source material having been in the public domain)? Wouldn't 
this be considered a "derivative" work? On that epublishing forum, 
virtually everyone (except myself) has been arguing that I can't 
copyright works that are in the public domain, regardless of what 
changes I might make to them. Personally, I find that idea a bit 
ludicrous (that I can't copyright my efforts), but I'm willing to stand 
corrected from more informed opinions. ;)

Secondly, there has also been the assertion that ebook publishers can't 
copyright the design, formatting, etc. of their books (whether the 
content is public domain or not), if only because "anyone" can check out 
the source code and do whatever they want with it.

Well, after a bit of googling this afternoon, I found several sites 
which discussed that HTML, CSS and other source code (which make up both 
web pages as well as ebooks) ARE, in fact, copyrightable -- and if the 
source code for a publication is copyrightable, then only naturally the 
visual design of it would also be.

Can anyone clarify that for me -- or, alternatively, correct me if I'm 

Thank you so much, in advance, for any help you can provide me with 
these questions! Whatever the answers are, I'm sure they will be of 
great interest to many of my epublishing colleagues as well.

Ron :)
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