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Is An Expert Certificate Protectable By Copyright In The Us?

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Pillar Of The Community
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Posted 01/22/2020   8:24 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this topic Add cjpalermo1964 to your friends list Get a Link to this Message
Over the past few days I have been pondering whether expert certificates issued for a fee in the normal manner by the major stamp expert services are subject to US copyright protection. The question is important for anyone who might consider creating a public searchable database of images of certificates that have been issued by these services. Presumably, in creating such a service, the developer would scan or digitally photograph existing certificates, obtained by themselves or received from others, digitally store them and create metadata in a database to support searches. I presume, for this post, that the metadata would be originally created by the developer, including by automated means such as OCR of certificates, but not "scraped" or copied from online systems of the expert services. Instead, I'm limiting this analysis to whether I can take an expert certificate that I paid for, which was created by APEX, PF, PSAG or PSE and sent to me, scan it or photograph it and publish it online for anyone to search and view.

My initial view was that the typical certificate contains insufficient creative authorship to qualify for US copyright protection. Usually they contain brief identifying information about the service, facts about the "patient", and a statement of opinion. The small number of words used in a cert may be below the threshold for which the US Copyright Office or the federal courts are willing to grant or enforce protection based on the intent of Congress in adopting the relevant statutes. It would seem to be good public policy that they are below the threshold, so people can more freely circulate, discuss and educate themselves with these things.

Certificates also usually include an image of the patient, and that scan or photo of the stamp throws a wildcard into the analysis. Photographs routinely receive copyright protection with minimal work by the photographer; set up a tripod, take a shot and you have copyright. There have been exceptions, and it's possible that putting a stamp on a scanner and making an unaltered scan involves too litle authorship as well.

To test these issues, today I have prepared my own expert certificate (image follows in the next post) and submitted an application for registration with the US Copyright Office. Everything in the cert is original to me, and it involves a real stamp that I examined. It mimics existing certs, to see how the USCO's examiners react to these highly fact-based works. I paid a $55 fee and everything stated in the application was accurate and truthful.

The examination time is about 3 months. I'll let you know what happens.
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Posted 01/22/2020   8:26 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add cjpalermo1964 to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
... and here's the cert.

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Posted 01/22/2020   8:40 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add stampcrow to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
You should trademark "Philatelligence".
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Posted 01/22/2020   8:48 pm  Show Profile Check 51studebaker's eBay Listings Bookmark this reply Add 51studebaker to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Interesting, thank you for starting the topic.

In my unlearned opinion, I would classify a stamp cert like that shown above as a 'form'; something that contains dynamic, changeable fields. When I remove the fields, what is left? A border, a logo, some fonts, and a layout. Does the border and the layout meet or exceed the creativity bar? If so, are there existing forms which already have claims?

Of course this is just how I look at it with little legal experience.
Don


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Posted 01/22/2020   8:52 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add SPQR to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
CJ - have you reviewed the court opinion resulting from the dispute between Jerry Wagshal and PF? Jerry had obtained PF certs for some Chicago Perf 1851 issue stamps. Wilson Hulme wanted to use the cert images for an article to be published in the USPCS Chronicle and Jerry objected to the use of the images for his stamps because he planned to write an article on the subject. If I remember correctly, at the time there was no language on the cert submission form allowing the PF to use the information. There was a lawsuit with a published opinion that I cannot find at the moment. If I remember correctly the court (New York state court?) came down against free use.
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Posted 01/22/2020   11:02 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add Batessa to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
I would agree that the "form" is not copy-writable. Its just a bunch of changing words and lines. The REAL, more accurate question is "is the opinion" copy-writable. If it is, then its owned by the purchaser (the one who paid for the opinion) unless its clearly stated that the one giving the opinion retains the rights to the opinion. I very much doubt that a stamp cert paid for could be considered public domain, thus either the giver or the receiver of the opinion "owns" that opinion. I would argue that since payment was received for the opinion, the owner would be he who paid for the cert. The VALUE is the Opinion, not the paper the opinion is printed on. So theoretically you could print or post or do whatever with the cert, you just can't publish, disclose, post or print the opinion.
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Posted 01/22/2020   11:24 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add Mrita75 to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply


I agree with stampcrow, "Philatelligence" - is....Philabrilliant! :)

That is all.
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Posted 01/23/2020   01:42 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add archerg to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
It's also reperforated at left methinks...

In my uninformed opinion, common law trademark protection of "Philatelligence" would be fairly powerful anyway, regardless of copyright.



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Posted 01/23/2020   06:44 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add rogdcam to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Chris - Thank you for doing this. I am hopeful that the results are favorable towards being able to publish certificates within a searchable database. It would be a great tool as discussed in another recent thread.
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Posted 01/23/2020   08:05 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add revcollector to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
What this really ponders to me is "why would they want the opinion to be copy written in the first place?" It seems to me that the expert organizations would WANT their opinions out there, collectors seeing them is good advertising, and the relative percentage of correct certs to incorrect certs is extremely high overall (despite some attempts to make it appear differently). The only reason I can think of that the PSE data base is not searchable as opposed to the PF data base is because they did not wish to spend the money to make it so.
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Posted 01/23/2020   09:08 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add alub to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
As for the photograph copyright question:

Doesn't the post office own the copyright to the image of the stamp itself? How can I take a photo of a copyrighted image and then, own the resulting image?
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Posted 01/23/2020   09:39 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add rogdcam to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Information regarding USPS copyright/trademark issues:

https://about.usps.com/doing-busine.../welcome.htm
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Posted 01/23/2020   10:17 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add cjpalermo1964 to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply

Quote:
What this really ponders to me is "why would they want the opinion to be copy written in the first place?"


To some extent that question doesn't matter, because the reason for this investigation is risk assessment for the person contemplating offering a large number of certs from multiple providers, for a fee or free. Even if you are correct and the expertizers don't care about enforcement of copyright in certs, they will never say so on the reccord, forever binding them, because executives and business models can change. So the hypothetical person developing the database always will have forward risk.


Quote:
How can I take a photo of a copyrighted image and then, own the resulting image?


You own your particular photo and have the right to control its distribution and use, but don't acquire the right to control all others' use of their versions of the image. Copyright is limited to your particular expression - the theory is that when you take a photo or scan of a stamp, with particular equipment, lighting and other conditions, it will be different than when I do.
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Posted 01/23/2020   10:20 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add cjpalermo1964 to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply

Quote:
It's also reperforated at left methinks...


I should have noted that this example cert does not state my actual complete opinion of this stamp. I intentionally made the opinion text minimal to see whether it's above the threshold of sufficient authorship. I could have written 3 or 4 lines, as this stamp has multiple faults.

@SPQR - No, I haven't seen that case, and have not found it in inital searching. If anyone has a court docket number or citation, please advise. But it sounds like a slightly different issue, i.e., a dispute over authorship of the images or scan. In my example here, that's not an issue because I made the scans.
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Posted 01/23/2020   10:50 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add SPQR to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
I was looking for the opinion earlier and could not find it - I think it was captioned something like the Board of Regents of the State University of New York - something to do with how the PF was set-up as a nonprofit. Yes, but if the owner of the stamp can prevent use of the image how could you create a database of certs?
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Posted 01/23/2020   11:14 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add txstamp to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
I don't know what the final court ruling was on the Wagshal case.

Due to it, Wilson's article came out like this:
http://chronicle.uspcs.org/PDF/Chro...75/11694.pdf

Note the lack of illustrations. The captions, with text written by Wilson were able to be left in, clearly giving the owner of the illustrations full credit beneath them.

At least we were able to publish the text of the article, which was a very significant philatelic contribution.

I don't ever want to see anything like this happen again. It very significantly soured me on the entire hobby. Stamp collecting never carried the same fun-factor for me again after all of this. Only in recent years, have I gotten somewhat invigorated again.

So, I guess the moral of the story is copyrights do matter.

Oh and, yes, wasn't stamp collecting supposed to be fun?
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