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Old 10-08-2017, 12:57 PM   #1
arjaybe
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Is a table of contents copyrightable?

I know titles aren't copyrightable, but I wonder if that extends to tables of contents.

I have a friend who has a grand plan for a series on maritime history, and he sent me his proposed table of contents. It has parts with titles and chapters with titles that lay out his idea for the structure and content of the series. The thing is, he's sworn me to secrecy about it and has plastered copyright labels all over it. I want to know if I can tell him whether he can claim copyright like that.

I think what's behind it is that he thinks he has a great and valuable idea and he's afraid someone will steal it and publish his story before he can.
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Old 10-08-2017, 01:12 PM   #2
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I think no, but I might be wrong.
Or it may be if there is unusual wording. If it is just
Title:
Sailing:
Schooners:
Name of schooner
Name of schooner
Etc

Then no.
I am also pretty sure there are numerous books on maritime history.
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Old 10-08-2017, 01:24 PM   #3
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IANAL but my guess would be that whilst his TOC is technically copyright - it's an expression in fixed form after all - that won't be enough to stop someone else writing a book with the same structure.

He also seems to have fallen into the trap of thinking it's the idea that's valuable and not the execution. This strikes me as similar to the folks who think that if they wrote a book about a boy wizard going to wizarding school prior to 1997 that they can sue JK Rowling. Aside from the legal niceties there's an assumption that it was those elements (the idea) that accounts for the success and not the book itself as a whole.

Similarly if someone else writes a maritime history with the same structure as your friend it won't be that that makes or breaks its success, it'll be the quality of the writing, of the research, the interest in the subject matter itself.
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Old 10-08-2017, 02:15 PM   #4
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I think it is unlikely. As latepaul says, there is the fact that copyright does not cover ideas, only their expression. Copyright only comes into effect when that expression takes form, and a table of contents is, almost by definition, an incomplete expression of the idea.

But a lot of this stuff will vary with time and place. This article from Wikipedia Threshold of originality (which relates to what Cinisajoy was saying) demonstrates some of the vagaries of copyright, showing that in borderline cases the only way to find out would be to take it to court.

Which leaves the final point. Copyright is only much good to you if you have the resources to contest it when violated. In cases where the violation is blatant and the violator has made money the chances are you'd find someone to help you take it on. But in borderline cases, where the outcome is uncertain, you'd probably be on your own and it could get very expensive.
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Old 10-08-2017, 08:06 PM   #5
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Thanks, all. That's pretty much what I expected. I think I'll tell him gently that he doesn't need to put a copyright notice on the TOC. I'll also tell him that when he has more, say a detailed outline, his copyright will be vested automatically. He has a tendency toward grandiosity, but from what I know about him I'm optimistic that he will get somewhere with this. It looks like a big project -- daunting, I'd call it -- but I think he might do it. He'll have plenty of opportunities for disillusionment, so I'll stay on the encouragement side.-)
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Old 10-08-2017, 08:13 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by arjaybe View Post
Thanks, all. That's pretty much what I expected. I think I'll tell him gently that he doesn't need to put a copyright notice on the TOC. I'll also tell him that when he has more, say a detailed outline, his copyright will be vested automatically. He has a tendency toward grandiosity, but from what I know about him I'm optimistic that he will get somewhere with this. It looks like a big project -- daunting, I'd call it -- but I think he might do it. He'll have plenty of opportunities for disillusionment, so I'll stay on the encouragement side.-)
Just remember to be super safe, register the book with the Library of Congress.
Note there is a fee.
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Old 10-08-2017, 09:10 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Cinisajoy View Post
Just remember to be super safe, register the book with the Library of Congress.
Note there is a fee.
Like me, he is Canadian. We have something similar that you can do when getting your ISBNs.
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Old 10-08-2017, 10:54 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by latepaul View Post
IANAL but my guess would be that whilst his TOC is technically copyright - it's an expression in fixed form after all - that won't be enough to stop someone else writing a book with the same structure.

He also seems to have fallen into the trap of thinking it's the idea that's valuable and not the execution. This strikes me as similar to the folks who think that if they wrote a book about a boy wizard going to wizarding school prior to 1997 that they can sue JK Rowling. Aside from the legal niceties there's an assumption that it was those elements (the idea) that accounts for the success and not the book itself as a whole.

Similarly if someone else writes a maritime history with the same structure as your friend it won't be that that makes or breaks its success, it'll be the quality of the writing, of the research, the interest in the subject matter itself.
For that matter what about the "Worst Witch" stories? They started in 1974 and feature things like a kindly headmistress, a grumpy potions teacher, etc. and seeing some of the episodes of the series on netflix I can see similarities between it and the Harry Potter books, but one isn't a copy of the other. Enough details are different to make them totally different in the telling. Or there is "High Noon" and "Outland" as another example. Both use the same premise of a lawman left alone to deal with a problem but are different. Or "Romeo and Juliet" and "West Side Story." Similar ideas but different stories. The world is chock full of similar but different stories. In fact since most books follow the same basic plot (where the hero wins at the end) I can't think of two stories that don't have some similarities between them.
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Old 10-08-2017, 10:59 PM   #9
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For that matter what about the "Worst Witch" stories? They started in 1974 and feature things like a kindly headmistress, a grumpy potions teacher, etc. and seeing some of the episodes of the series on netflix I can see similarities between it and the Harry Potter books, but one isn't a copy of the other. Enough details are different to make them totally different in the telling. Or there is "High Noon" and "Outland" as another example. Both use the same premise of a lawman left alone to deal with a problem but are different. Or "Romeo and Juliet" and "West Side Story." Similar ideas but different stories. The world is chock full of similar but different stories. In fact since most books follow the same basic plot (where the hero wins at the end) I can't think of two stories that don't have some similarities between them.
Peter Pan and Saw.
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Old 10-08-2017, 11:14 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Cinisajoy View Post
Just remember to be super safe, register the book with the Library of Congress. Note there is a fee.
If I understand correctly, I just violated your copyright by quoting you in full (rather than quoting your post partially, which would arguably be fair use, and is what I try to keep to in these forums).

However, what I didn't realize, until I Googled it right now, is that you can't sue me for infringement because, AFAIK, you didn't pay the $35 to register the inherent copyright in the post I quoted. I think the category you would put your post in would be "text only" as seen here:

https://www.copyright.gov/registrati...rks/index.html

Of course, there also is the possibility you did pay the $35, in which case I'm in big trouble
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Old 10-08-2017, 11:37 PM   #11
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If I understand correctly, I just violated your copyright by quoting you in full (rather than quoting your post partially, which would arguably be fair use, and is what I try to keep to in these forums).

However, what I didn't realize, until I Googled it right now, is that you can't sue me for infringement because, AFAIK, you didn't pay the $35 to register the inherent copyright in the post I quoted. I think the category you would put your post in would be "text only" as seen here:

https://www.copyright.gov/registrati...rks/index.html

Of course, there also is the possibility you did pay the $35, in which case I'm in big trouble
Thanks I couldn't remember the fee.
You aren't in big trouble because you gave me credit for the quote and didn't try to claim it was yours.
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Old 10-09-2017, 08:23 AM   #12
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I think you would have to put in a legal copyright notice in with the post for it to be copyright protected. (c) is not valid. It had to be the proper symbol.
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Old 10-09-2017, 09:17 AM   #13
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I think you would have to put in a legal copyright notice in with the post for it to be copyright protected. (c) is not valid. It had to be the proper symbol.
Not true. In any country that's a signatory of the Berne Convention, copyright exists automatically (where it applies) and does not require a copyright notice. What you say was true at one time in the US, but has not been true for many, many years.
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Old 10-09-2017, 09:21 AM   #14
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IANAL but my guess would be that whilst his TOC is technically copyright - it's an expression in fixed form after all - that won't be enough to stop someone else writing a book with the same structure.

He also seems to have fallen into the trap of thinking it's the idea that's valuable and not the execution. This strikes me as similar to the folks who think that if they wrote a book about a boy wizard going to wizarding school prior to 1997 that they can sue JK Rowling. Aside from the legal niceties there's an assumption that it was those elements (the idea) that accounts for the success and not the book itself as a whole.

Similarly if someone else writes a maritime history with the same structure as your friend it won't be that that makes or breaks its success, it'll be the quality of the writing, of the research, the interest in the subject matter itself.
Titles are not protected by copyright, and hence a table of contents (which is just a list of titles) is not, either. If the design of the table were sufficiently "innovative", one could conceivably claim a "typographical copyright" in it (this is what can protect the layout of a magazine, for example), but it seems highly improbable that this would apply to a TOC.

At the end of the day, though, any such decision would rest with an intellectual property court, should the aforementioned friend sue for copyright infringement.
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Old 10-09-2017, 01:03 PM   #15
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I think you would have to put in a legal copyright notice in with the post for it to be copyright protected. (c) is not valid. It had to be the proper symbol.
I do believe you still need tm which is for trademark on certain things and this thread has taken a rather silly turn.
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