Can a company copyright voluntary submissions from the public? 7 Answers as of June 19, 2013

If a person or company has media like books or magazines that get published and distributed to the public, and has a notice that the public can submit their feedback, suggestions, etc. to help improve the books, can those books be copyrighted by the company or individual once they have included those suggestions?

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Gerald Walsh | Gerald Walsh
You should be able to own the suggestion once it is submitted to you but you may not be able to reproduce the exact wording of the suggestion as it was submitted. Copyright does not protect ideas.
Answer Applies to: Alabama
Replied: 6/19/2013
Banner & Witcoff, Ltd. | Ernie Linek
Yes - the company can copyright the submissions. The company created the original document and requested public feedback - which was freely given. The content of the comments is based on the original document - without which, no feedback would exist.
Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
Replied: 6/4/2013
Barton Barton & Plotkin
Barton Barton & Plotkin | Maurice Ross
Yes. I am sure the company requires those who submit comments to waive copyright or assign it to the publisher.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 6/3/2013
Mark S. Hubert PC
Mark S. Hubert PC | Mark Hubert
Yes provided that they just used your suggestions. If you proposed an entire rewrite of a section and they incorporated your rewrite much as you had written it without your permission then you may have a cause of action against them.
Answer Applies to: Oregon
Replied: 5/31/2013
Law Office of Kirk Buhler
Law Office of Kirk Buhler | Kirk A Buhler
The answer depends upon the disclaimers. Letters to "the editor" of a paper or magazine are often published and copy written by the paper or magazine. Often the people making these submissions hope that the comment is published. Yes, they can because the person making the submission is voluntary making the submission without any demand or request for compensation, and there is no contract for compensation. The author of the submission is usually the only recognition.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 5/31/2013
    Webb IP Law Group
    Webb IP Law Group | Jason P Webb
    Answer Applies to: Utah
    Replied: 5/31/2013
    Sebby Law Office
    Sebby Law Office | Jayne Sebby
    The company can only copyright those portions of the material that it owns the copyright on. Unless there is a written agreement between the company and the authors of the voluntary submissions that transfers the copyright to the company, the author retains the copyright. However, the Fair Use doctrine allows very specific exceptions to this law such as materials used in research, news gathering, or critiques. Check with an Intellectual Property attorney to see if your project qualifies for this exception.
    Answer Applies to: Nebraska
    Replied: 5/31/2013
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