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Proper citation style for public domain text

Posted: 19 Aug 2020 01:59
by pateceramics
I'm currently composing a setting of Emily Dickinson's "To Make a Prairie" for SATB choir. Harvard University Press, which holds the copyright for many of her works has assured me that this poem has indeed passed out of copyright and is in the public domain. Is there a proper format for indicating that a text is in the public domain in the copyright notice at the bottom of one's sheet music?

The permissions and copyright office at Harvard provided me with a preferred credit line, should I choose to cite the poem to a volume of Dickinson's poetry it appears in that they publish, (see below), but no where does that text include the magical phrase "public domain" or "out of copyright." I usually include text in the copyright notice for my compositions specifically giving permission for people to make copies, perform, and share my pieces without liability. I worry that without a specific explainer that this text is out of copyright, people will be fearful about opening themselves up to litigation from a publishing company by passing the score around. I can always add a sentence that plainly states, "this text is out of copyright," but I didn't know if there was a style guide for such things. Thoughts?

Here's what Harvard University Press suggested I use if I cite the work to their edition:
Source: THE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON: READING EDITION, edited by Ralph W. Franklin, Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998, 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

I just don't want there to be any confusion as to the legality of using it that worries anyone. It's all above board, I extra-double-checked. I want everyone to know that I extra-double-checked.

Kind regards,
M. Furtak

Re: Proper citation style for public domain text

Posted: 19 Aug 2020 03:06
by CHGiffen
Hello Maggie!
If the poem is indeed out of copyright and in the public domain, is it really necessary to cite the work to the edition of Dickinson's poems? My feeling is that you can simply put "Text: Public domain" on your score. You can always back up any challenge, if one should arise.
Greetings from Hudson, WI - hope you are well, healthy, and safe.

Re: Proper citation style for public domain text

Posted: 19 Aug 2020 12:39
by pateceramics
Thank you for your input. From my understanding, it is considered good form to cite a source, even if the work is in the public domain, so that interested parties can go find the context of the quote (in the case of excerpts from longer works), and to hold us all accountable for keeping spelling and comma usage consistent (in the case of works quoted in their entirety). Dickinson's poems for instance, have been published by several different editors over the last 150 years, and line breaks, capitalization, and punctuation may differ slightly between editions. Since so much of her work was published after her death, decisions were made by editors about how to typeset her handwritten works, without the ability to consult her wishes, so it's good to know which edition you are pulling a text from.

It's always good to leave a paper trail, but if there is no set form, I can always just include a line, "this text is now in the public domain," as you suggest. I just want to be sure I'm being clear and following conventional style, if there is one for this occasion.

Thanks for your help!
-M. Furtak

Re: Proper citation style for public domain text

Posted: 20 Aug 2020 20:25
by BarryJ
I suggest you also add a References section, and cite the book, like

*Dickinson, Emily. 1951. ''The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition''. Edited by Ralph W. Franklin. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University.

(or you could use another citation style)

Then it will be clear where you got the text.

Re: Proper citation style for public domain text

Posted: 21 Aug 2020 13:23
by pateceramics
Thanks, Barry,

That's another great suggestion!

M. Furtak