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The OTHER nasty underbelly of copyright

We got a letter from the Copyright Clearance Center on behalf of someone who wants permission to use a chapter out of a book published in 1960, so I set about figuring out what the book was and who could sign for the college. Simple right?

The permissions request form listed the author as Pierre Corneille and the book as “The Continental Model.” Ok, off to the catalog. Surely we own something if people are asking our permission for it. But the author’s name didn’t bring anything up, and it listed him as being alive and kicking in the 17th century, so that was confusing…

Then it turns out that Corneille was the original author of the chapter in this work of compiled essays, and the essays were all translated from the french by two guys. Ok, so this would probably be pretty straight forward. I’d just check to see if they’d renewed the copyright before sending the paper work over to the vice president’s office and he’d sign and we’d be done.

So I searched the Copyright Renewal Database from Stanford REALLY hoping nobody had renewed it so that I wouldn’t have to keep figuring out if we owned the copyright. Unfortunately, they had. And just to throw an extra wrinkle into the mix, the two authors were listed as the renewers, which probably means Carleton doesn’t own the copyright. So maybe this won’t be so bad. I’ll figure out if one of them is alive and send the paperwork off to him.

But then I found both of their obituaries. So now I have to figure out if the copyright might have fallen to us. WHAT A PAIN. So after a couple of phone calls, it seemed like the next step was our college archives. We need to know if there’s any contract that would tell us that we’re the copyright holders. And just to make this more interesting, the book turns out to have been jointly published by Carleton and by the University of Minnesota Press, and have been published using grant funding provided by then-president Larry Gould (for whom our library is named, by the way).

So then the archivist hunted for any paperwork associated with the two professors or with that grant from Gould. He didn’t find anything, so now we’re pretty sure that since the two guys renewed the copyright, their estates must hold the rights. The poor prof will now get a form letter back with the “I do not hold rights to this work” checked.

And the kicker is that, the prof who asked for our permission has asked to use one chapter from a book, and to use it for a class reading distributed to five students. So the use falls squarely within fair use, but there’s no way on this earth that the Copyright Clearance Center is going to pass that message on to the prof from me.

What a royal pain! We should start charging the CCC for fear mongering.

Published inCarletonCopyright


  1. yes thats correct !
    how I spent an entire morning on a useless errand.

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