From: <johnl[_at_]>
Date: Mon, 09 Sep 96 13:33:56 -0400

On 09/06/96, Melissa Levine <mele[_at_]> said:
> Is the copyright to correspondence to the government or to government
> officials in their official capacity (such as these) still retained by
> the writer? Do the writers have to consent to having their letters
> placed <online>? Do they somehow become public domain because they are
> to the U.S. government? I assume not, but am curious about others'
> thoughts.

Seems to me there are some fairly powerful arguments for them being fair use. No commercial value. Significant public policy in the public knowing the basis on which decisions are made. ( hmm, if I were to mail a bribe offer, could we suppress it on the basis that I held copyright in it?). Will the DOJ violte copyright when they send copies of the letters to the court as they are required to do?

I sort of went through this once before. As Chair of a Committee I received a copy of a letter to the Wisconsin Supreme Court addressing a Supreme Court rule change proposal by the Committee. Copies were sent to me, and a half dozen other assorted officials.

The letter was a responsible one with good comments, but made what I suspected were mistakes in describing a competitive product., I sent a copy of the letter to the producer of the product. They sent a letter pointing out civilly but with some passion, the demonstable factual errors in the first letter's description of their pricing and other details.

I included the letter, and the response in an appendix in the report. The report was delivered to the Board of Governor of the State Bar.

The author of the original letter threatened to sue the Bar for copyright violation were his letter not removed.

Now, is this an appropiate use of copyright? Would copyright be violated when copies of the letter were made for the court file? How about if someone asked and received a copy of the court's file?


John Lederer

Oregon, Wisconsin
(In this particular case I suspect the postings are with permission) Received on Mon Sep 09 1996 - 18:47:46 GMT

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