Baker v. Selden

101 U.S. 99 (1879)

 

RULE:

Writings about a subject of practical knowledge, such as bookkeeping, is considered to be community property and was the subject not of copyright but of a patent if completely original. The claim to an invention or discovery of an art or manufacture must be subjected to the examination of the Patent Office before an exclusive right therein can be obtained; and it can only be secured by a patent from the government.

FACTS:

Plaintiff, testator for complainant, obtained a copyright for a book on the art of bookkeeping written by complainant and sued defendant, an author of another book on the subject, for copyright infringement. A decree was rendered for plaintiff, and defendant appealed. Plaintiff claimed defendant had infringed the copyright by using account books with columns and headings similar to those explained in the copyrighted work.

ISSUE:

By using account books with columns and headings similar to the complainant’s book on the art of bookkeeping, did the defendant violate the copyright of the complainant’s book?

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

 The Court ruled that the record failed to show that defendant had violated the copyright of complainant's book and that the matter plaintiff alleged was infringed was not even a lawful subject of copyright. To assert its point, the Court drew a distinction between an author's original writing, which was a valid subject of copyright, and the art or practical knowledge explained by the writing, which generally was considered to be community property and was the subject not of copyright but of a patent if completely original to the author. The subject of the complainant’s book belongs to the latter.

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