Okay, I haven’t really made a horrible mistake, but saying I “almost” made a mistake doesn’t sound nearly as dramatic.
I was looking for some quotable poem for new new manuscript, and I found the perfect thing, however, I knew I’d have to check on the copyright status. In today’s world, figuring out the actual date a work goes into the public domain can be complicated.
O Venus, beauty of the skies,
To whom a thousand temples rise,
Gaily false in gentle smiles,
Full of love-perplexing wiles;
O goddess, from my heart remove
The wasting cares and pains of love.
So, I looked up the publication date of the poem, and found out it was attributed to a poet named Sappho in 600 BC. And here’s where I almost made my mistake. I stopped there.
It wasn’t until I was editing my piece later that I started to think there was something wrong with my logic. Sure, the original was thousands of years old… but wouldn’t the original have been written in ancient Greek?
So, this becomes a translation, and translations, even translations of things like the bible have their own copyright rules. They can be considered derivative works and come under the original work’s copyright, but they can also, if suitably different be considered a separate work, entitled to copyright protection. So, I had to find the history of the translation and determine its copyright status. Fortunately, this particular translation was done by Ambrose Philips in 1711.
So, disaster has been avoided. However, I was lucky in this case. While the piece seems antiquated, it could have easily been done in the 1960s and still have copyright protection.