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Other >> Copyright Forum >> Protecting a "how to" web article
(Message started by: onceburned on Jun 10th, 2005, 8:09am)

Title: Protecting a "how to" web article
Post by onceburned on Jun 10th, 2005, 8:09am
I created a "how to" web site a few years ago and a few months back I found my article for sale on a CD on Ebay. Since I had not done anything to copyright it I was not able to stop the sale other than complain to Ebay.

I understand that, generally speaking, how-to articles like are not copyrightable but photographs are. If I was to copyright the pictures I use in the article would that afford me any protection for my future work?

Also, can I place all the photos (maybe a dozen or so) in one package for the $30 copyright fee if they are all of the same work?

Title: Re: Protecting a "how to" web article
Post by JSonnabend on Jun 10th, 2005, 8:13am
Your base assumption that "how to" articles are not copyrightable per-se is not correct.  Copyright protection for such articles depends almost entirely on the content of the article, not on any bright-line test.

Your proposed approach of using photographs of literary works to protect the literary works themselves is likely not viable.

If you are serious about protecting your rights in your articles, I suggest contacting an attorney.

- Jeff

Title: Re: Protecting a "how to" web article
Post by onceburned on Jun 10th, 2005, 8:21am
Perhaps I was not clear...

My articles are on how to construct items used in a particular occupation. Tools I have created that I would like to share with others... not for any profit but just to help others in their work.

The photos I use I take myself of the various construction steps along the way toward making the project.  They are mine to use.

Title: Re: Protecting a "how to" web article
Post by mactheknife on Jun 12th, 2005, 1:06am
Even after clarifying your remark, I agree with JSonnabend's response.  If your article contains an appreciable amount of textual authorship (as most do), then it is copyrightable, reagardless of the nature of the information conveyed.  Photographs of course have their own copyright.  As far as copyright registration goes, the Copyright Office will accept multiple published works (such as text and photographs) using a single application and $30 fee, if they are owned by the same person and if they were first published on the same day and in the same "unit of publication."  So, if you took all the photos and put them up on your website at the same time, you can probably do them all on a single copyright application for one $30 fee.

Title: Re: Protecting a "how to" web article
Post by JSonnabend on Jun 13th, 2005, 12:12pm

on 06/12/05 at 01:06:38, mactheknife wrote:
If your article contains an appreciable amount of textual authorship (as most do), then it is copyrightable, reagardless of the nature of the information conveyed.

I certainly didn't say that.

In practice, aspects of your work may be protectable, while others are not.  In copyright-speak, anywhere where the idea your are trying to convey and the expression of that idea are so closely related that they effectively "merge" (that's the copyright-speak), you'll have no protection.  Where there is sufficient creative input, then you'll have protection under copyright law, but again, only to the extent that the expression is sufficiently creative to avoid merging with the underlying idea.

- Jeff

Title: Re: Protecting a "how to" web article
Post by onceburned on Jun 13th, 2005, 2:11pm
I guess my question now is, whether or not the text of the article may be copyrightable, the photos and drawings I used in it always will be if they were all created by me and me alone.

That said, is there any difference in the federal protection afforded me if I register at least the 14 photos and 4 drawings I used. Should someone copy the article for sale they would have to copy the pictures and graphics or the article is meaningless.

Am I any less protected if the article's text is not considered copyrightable in this case?

Finally, should someone steal my work would there be a single copyright violation for the whole work or 18 counts for illegal use of all the pics and drawings.

My guess... only a single count if they were filed under a single application form  ;)

Title: Re: Protecting a "how to" web article
Post by mactheknife on Jun 14th, 2005, 12:08pm
Jeff, I apologize for mis-paraphrasing your post.  What I meant was that the same standard applies whether the article is about constructing household items, painting a fence, baseball in the 1950's or the best way to sell plush toys on eBay.  :P  That said, I have never seen an "article" (in the news/information sense of the word) where the expression is so tied to the idea to render it uncopyrightable.  Boxscores and ingredient lists don't count.   ;D

As far as litigation goes, I will defer to the lawyers on this board and also recommend it's best to see an attorney for personal advice about your situation.  I will say, though, that it is very common for large music publishing companies (EMI, etc.) to register a number of published songs on a single application.  I'm sure they consider each work to be separate, and if every song were infringed, they would go for 2 (4, 6, 8...) "counts" of copyright infringement, not just one.  Or at least they would throw a $#!+ fit if it were considered only one... heh

Title: Re: Protecting a "how to" web article
Post by JSonnabend on Jun 15th, 2005, 7:15am
No offense taken ;).


on 06/14/05 at 12:08:29, mactheknife wrote:
That said, I have never seen an "article" (in the news/information sense of the word) where the expression is so tied to the idea to render it uncopyrightable.

Do a quick Westlaw search on recipe/cookbook copyrights.  Most recipes are entitled to little if any protection -- that's the ingredient list and the instructions.  After all, how many ways are there to tell someone to break an egg?

- Jef



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