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Much information in this section is taken from Nimmer, M.B. et al., "Cases and Materials on Copyright" (1998). Other information is available via the web site of the U.S. Copyright Office, various copyright tutorials, copyright FAQs, and pages of copyright links on the web.

In a typical language documentation project, copyrights of very many individuals and institutions may naturally come to be involved, implicitly if not explicitly. Thus in a set of transcribed and annotated interviews, copyrights might in principle be held by the interviewers, the interviewees, the transcribers, the annotators, and by those who plan the project and arrange the materials for publication. In different countries and at different times, the details of who has what rights will vary, and in many cases the question of whether a copyright exists or not may be arguable.


Some recommendations about how to deal with copyright in a language documentation project are:

Copyright applications

The most important issue is where the copying is being done, not where the work copied was created. If a work is authored entirely in (say) Ecuador, it is still U.S. Copyright Law that governs its publication and distribution within the U.S. The protections offered are pretty broad, in the sense that any (new) unpublished work is automatically covered, regardless of the nationality or domicile of the author. However, with respect to U.S. publication, it is U.S. law and not Ecuadorian law that applies. The same would apply in reverse to publication in Ecuador.

Because of this layered history, in the U.S., the term of a copyright and even its existence are different for works created or published at different times. A simplified table is given below. Consult for a more extensive summary of copyright duration issues.

Works created before 1978, but not published. Copyright expires 70 years after the death of the author, or 31 Dec. 2002, whichever is greater.
Works created before 1978 and published. Copyright expires 75 years from the date of publication.
Works created by an individual on or after 1 Jan. 1978. Protected for the life of the author plus 50 years.
Works for hire. Protected for 75 years from date of publication or 100 years from the date of creation, whichever occurs first.
Joint works. Copyright expires 50 years after the death of the last author.

The content of this page was taken from Mark Liberman's "Concerning the Recording and Publications of Primary Language Materials" at Exploration 2000.

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E-MELD School of Best Practices: Copyright
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