1. bookmac
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    bookmac New Member

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    Borrowing court transcript into novel?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by bookmac, Sep 26, 2014.

    Can you put court transcript into novel?
    Would be consider plagiarism?
     
  2. Jaro
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    Jaro Active Member

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    Interesting question. Unfortunately I don't know the answer, but I'll hang around to see what others say :)
     
  3. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    No, those are public records, they're free to reprint by anyone. Make sure that the case hasn't been sealed, and that it isn't pending and you're good to go.
     
  4. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    You don't want to do this. Dialogue in a novel is not true transcription of dialogue - it's the highlights. Actual transcripts are boring as hell to read and take quite a bit of effort.
     
  5. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I'm not debating the point, but I like to imagine that the original poster was talking about using them as a base and modifying them to be easily read.
     
  6. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    You may be correct, as I re-read the OP. In fact, I hope you are.
    If the OP is asking whether he can base a novel on a court case, the answer is quite complicated -- a "yes, but...." with a lot of qualifiers. Shows like Law & Order did this all the time. Any movie "based on a true story" or "inspired by actual events" (such as those you often see on Lifetime) does essentially this. If it involves a criminal trial and the defendant is found not guilty, creating a story indicating he is, in fact, guilty of the crime *could* get you slapped with a libel/defamation case. If it involves a civil trial, you'd need to take care to disguise the people you're basing characters on. (And this could be difficult if it is a case of some notoriety.)
    It really depends on A LOT of things. Certainly you can take a real life court case and fictionalize it. But you'd need to take care to disguise identities of certain people (unless you have express, written permission), and certain events.
     
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  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's not a transcript, though.

    To me, the OP sounds like he wants to copy the transcripts word for word.

    Which might be effective in very short bits?
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    This doesn't appear to be clear. Traditionally, I believe that they belonged to the court reporter, in the sense that the reporter could charge for them. Now that seems to be challenged.
     
  9. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Oh, I'm not saying they're free. In fact you might have to file a FOIA brief to get to them. But they are definitely not copyrighted, and no one could site plagiarism if they are used.
     
  10. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    I would say to contact your local court clerk and ask them. :agreed:
     
  11. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, it is hard to tell. I doubt it would be effective at all -- the only way I could see to do it would be if you were quoting just a single line or two. I don't see any point where you would actually want to reprint a page of the transcript.

    There are established ways to get transcripts -- I think most of the court reporters are paid by the court system and there's a set process to order the transcript. There are private court reporter companies, though, and if, for example, you want a transcript of a deposition, you just contact the court reporting company. In any case, yes, you have to pay for them, but the court reporters themselves don't own the copyright or anything.

    The clerk probably will be able to refer to you the phone number or website to contact for ordering a transcript, but they won't know anything else, like the details of whether it could be included in a story.

    In any case, if you're fictionalizing an account, you're running into danger as far as making the real life events and people readily identifiable.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sounds sketchy at best. I'd check with a literary attorney first, rather than blindly accepting the legal opinions of random netters.
     
  13. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Dude, there is no debate over whether he can use them. They are public documents, available to everyone.
     
  14. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    @bookmac Can you be a bit more specific with your question please??

    I do know that certain transcripts are available on the net as I looked up some myself, but I was more interested in the terminology from the court's point of view, not the case itself.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    "Dude", they are available to the public for perusal. That does not necessarily mean you can incorporate them into your writing. Nor does it mean you are immune from civil actions.

    I mean it. Check with a lawyer. A real one, trained in literary law.
     
  16. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    [​IMG]
     
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  17. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    You would need to cite the transcript. But, again, I don't understand *why* you would want to do this. There are larger legal issues beyond anything related to copyright, which I don't think would be an issue with proper citation, as this is a hearing open to the public. (But you'd need to check on that.) The bigger issues would be defamation or libel or some sort of publicity for people not in the public eye. If this is a novel, I don't know why you would want to print an excerpt of a court transcript.
     
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  18. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But being available, in terms of it being legal to review them, doesn't necessarily mean that it's also completely legal to mass-reproduce them, or to use them to create derivative works. Europe, in particular, has privacy laws that mean that what you're allowed to know is not necessarily what you're also allowed to publish.
     
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  19. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I'm not sure what European law is. But if these documents couldn't be used as public information then the press would not be able to use them to sell newspapers, non-fiction writers and historians couldn't use them in books, and law schools wouldn't be able to teach their students.

    The original poster did not ask if he could get a hold of these documents, he didn't ask what he would have to do to get them and he didn't ask whether they should be used. He asked if their use was plagiarism, and the answer is a definitive "no."
     
  20. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't believe copyright applies here, in part because the testimony was not a personal expression by the person giving testimony, but a recording of a public proceeding. However, when you're referencing other documents used in nonfiction contexts, there is a fair use exception to copyright. That generally doesn't apply in novels.

    Depending, though, on what specifically is being said in the courtroom, it is possible there could be plagiarism in republishing it verbatim.
     
  21. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, if he uses them without attribution it would be plagiarism, right?

    We don't really have a lot of details on what he's thinking about.
     
  22. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well...

    If an academic uses anything at all without crediting it, I believe that that is indeed plagiarism. I think that that would apply to public records, public domain material, a random idea suggested by one's uncle at dinner, anything. If the idea didn't come out of your brain, you'd better reveal that fact.

    But a nonacademic author's main worry is not plagiarism, it's copyright and other legal, rather than academic/reputation, issues.

    I suppose there's a small chance that court transcripts could be copyrighted, though I don't think so, always assuming that the court proceedings themselves didn't include copyrighted material. (Say, a witness reading song lyrics aloud, for some silly reason.)

    Reproducing court transcripts could theoretically be a violation of privacy.

    Writing a fictional work based on court transcripts without sufficiently concealing the inspiration could lead to libel/slander complaints, whichever one is the written one.

    So I think that, yes, this could easily be an issue that calls for a lawyer.
     
  23. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Attribution and citation are not the same thing. This is a matter of public record, the only reason to cite it (or why an academic would) is so that other people can double check your work. Attribution exists to convey that an original idea, or concept is not your own. A source is attributed so that no one is wronged by having their ideas pirated to make money.

    In a court case, who would be wronged? The testimony is clearly owned by the people as it is a civil matter. If the original poster was considering using the deposition of a private meeting you might be able to bring the case.

    And maybe (as you deftly sidestepped the issue) a lawyer's consultation might be necessary. But, by the very definition of the term, it is not plagiarism.
     
  24. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Eh? Are trials, by definition, free of complex thought and ideas? Where in the definition of plagiarism, one of which, the one that Google produces, is:

    "the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own."

    does it it say "except when you're using a trial transcript"? If a trial attorney has an idea about the law, and you take it from a transcript and use it in an academic work without attributing the source, it's not plagiarism?
     
  25. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    One example might be in the case of an expert who explains something complicated. They are often compensated for their testimony and opinion. They may have renown in the scientific, academic or event he general community. If their testimony were copied verbatim, that could be a type of plagiarism, and theoretically could have copyright ramifications if particular descriptions were used by that expert.
     

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