Microsoft, markup, and electronic editions

Interesting thoughts in an email from Neel Smith:

Microsoft is selling through Amazon its copyrighted version of the U.S. Constitution. (Honest — there’s no way I could make up stuff this good.)

I gather that the copyright claims are based on their structuring of the text in MS’s own eBook format — that is, they are not claiming copyright on the text of the U.S. Constitution, but on the particular e-edition that they will sell you.

While I find this a ludicrous business proposition, I think there’s a legitimate point here: MS seems to me to imply that a differently structured text (for example, a semantically marked-up, TEI-conformant XML edition) constitutes a distinct and separately copyrightable edition.

The text of the US Consitution is in the public domain, as is any ancient Greek or Latin text, so any new edition of the US Constitution, the Iliad or Herodotus does not pose any of the problems with derivative works.

So I think MS would share my view that it would be a copyright violation to reproduce fully ML West’s Oxford edition of Hesiod (with introduction, apparatus, etc), but it would be legitimate to take Hesiod’s text as printed by West, provide a new electronic structure (e.g., TEI XML) and claim copyright on the new e-edition.

May be the first time I’ve ever found myself on the same side as MS in a question connected to copyright.

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