Friday, December 15, 2006

A Map Ain't A Map

As mentioned in an earlier post, Jimmie Carter appears to have used copies of maps without permission, in apparent violation of the copyright laws. That seems to be the least of Carter's sins, but the copyright issue is an interesting one -- as are some of the reactions to the accusation.

One approach taken by those seeking to minimize Carter's culpability is to suggest that maps are only minimally copyrightable. Hiram Hover, for example,
posts the following:

"Maybe there’s a case of copyright infringement here, maybe not. As
Ralph Luker points out, maps of the same place do tend to bear some resemblance to one another—surprising as that may be to the folks over at NRO, who have done so much to flog the accusation. In any event, a cribbed map is hardly what comes to most people’s minds when they hear the charge of 'plagiarism.'"

This is excuse is particularly silly coming from a purported historian. A historian should know, if anyone should, that maps are not fungible. Good or poor maps can make all the difference when trying to following a campaign, for example. Even in a social history, the absence of good maps can be extremely frustrating.

On the legal side, it's worth noting that the very first copyright act enacted in this country -- the Copyright Act of 1790 -- specifically included maps within its scope. Indeed, "map" was the very first item mentioned in the title of the Act: "An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by securing the Copies of Maps, Charts and Books, to the Authors and Proprietors of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned." (Emphasis added) "Map" is likewise the first protected species of work listed in the text of the Act:

"Section 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That from and after the passing of this act, the author and authors of any map, chart, book or books already printed within these United States . . . shall have the sole right and liberty of printing, reprinting, publishing and vending such map, chart, book or books, for the term of fourteen years from the recording the title thereof in the clerk’s office, as is herein after directed . . .." (Emphasis added.)

I guess the First Congress was populated by denizens of NRO. It's a massive right-wing conspiracy!

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