Who’s got the rights to Gregg?

Hey since Centennial was released some decades ago by McGraw Hill, who owns the rights to develop updated versions of Gregg? If there were a drive for an updated Gregg, which organisation would have the legal right to utilise the same principles? They can’t just leave this copyright to rot. Will they keep the system copyrighted forever, or will it become free to use and abuse after however many years. I’m no expert on this stuff as you can probably tell.!!!

(by michael_lisitsa for


29 comments Add yours
  1. It's hard to know what the copyright limits are on a shorthand system.  The Century 21 series of shorthand, published by South-Western for many years, was a direct knock-off from Gregg . . . most of the symbols are the same, the connected matter looks the same on the page, there were simply changes in some of the principles (for example, no left and right "s".  Even their short forms are often the same:  at, it, he, your, am.  On page 5 of the 1974 manual the words pay, people, type, and pool are all identical to Gregg.    If they could get away with that, why can't someone else?   Alex

  2. The real question is does McGraw-Hill have any future plans for utilization of its rights? Doubtful, since the company has allowed every text to go out of print, even the Simplified Manual which can still be obtained "new" from excess stock. McGraw-Hill did not take legal action against Century 21 nor apparently has it objected to PDFs of the Anniversary Manual and various pre-1949 publications readily available on the internet.

    While many Pitman devotees developed various "improvements" and spin-offs to their chosen system, I don't believe the Isaac Pitman group went after them on legal grounds.

    I assume McGraw-Hill will gradually allow any Gregg shorthand rights they now own expire since the marketing strategists of that company probably see no profit in future editions or reprints of the system. However, if anyone at this time created a new version of Gregg which turned a nifty profit, I'm sure they'd soon hear a knock on their doors from legal representatives demanding the cessation of such a violation of rights.


  3. Google has scanned many of the books from the Anniversary and pre-Anniversary era, as has the shorthand archive.  They can do this because the copyrights are apparently expired.  Given the decline in shorthand use, I would have the feeling that McGraw-Hill wouldn't necessarily protect their intellectual property rights very ardently.  My job focuses on patent infringement and patent litigation, so I'm not conversant at all with the copyright situation.   If you aren't selling their material without permission, there's very little they can do to you.  If a group wanted to modify the theory, it would probably only be an issue if were to be brought out in publication and distributed for sale.  If someone went so far to publish, and it did violate McGraw-Hills intellectual property rights, the situation could be cured by setting up a reasonably royalty agreement.  Though, you won't know until you get the cease and desist letter.  🙂  I don't see this prospect as being a big money maker so the threat of litigation would be fairly slim.   I've never been really clear about how Century 21 got away with the total Gregg knockoff.  Their hook was that there was a prevalence of right motion writing.  I was reading through the text and it is very similar, some of their briefs are different ("a" for able even without being in a phrase), but they rearranged some of the allocations of the strokes to different letters.  When South-Western would publish books with Gregg Shorthand in them, they always had a license agreement to do so.   A license agreement would allow tMcGraw-Hill to keep their rights to the intellectual property and allow a third-party to use the intellectual property.  If it doesn't bring in the bucks, no harm done.  If it does become wildly successful, everyone gets something.

  4. I am woefully ignorant in most legal matters, but I remember reading about this a while ago as it pertained to the Pitman wars. My understanding is that you can't copyright an IDEA; you can only copyright a particular expression of that idea. (http://law.freeadvice.com/intellectual_property/copyright_law/copyright_idea.htm). Considering that the Pre-Anniversary manual is in the public domain, one should have the right to use any of that material as they please, including publishing a new edition of the text. Well, as long as it doesn't match the exact wording and presentation in the post-1922 manuals . As far as the name "Gregg Shorthand" or the Gregg symbol goes, they may be registered trademarks. I don't know.

    By the way, the Anniversary Manual is still under US copyright until 2024. The fact that it is available on Andrew Owen's website and McGraw Hill hasn't complained about it leads me to believe that as long as you asked permission and didn't make gobs of money, you could probably get away with a lot.

  5. Thousandwaves, how do you know the Anny manual is still under US copyright? I thought it was only for 40 years, unless someone re-copyright-ed it, like McGraw Hill did with Simplified, DJ, S90 & Centennial?   sidhe

  6. Copyright issues after 1922 can get really complicated, but here is the basic information as it applies to the Anni manual.

    "In the US, books published before 1964 had to get their copyrights renewed at the Library of Congress Copyright Office in their 28th year, or they'd fall into the public domain" (http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/renewals.html). Once renewed, copyright remains in effect for 95 years after the original publication date (http://www.copyright.cornell.edu/public_domain/). The manual was published in 1929, so assuming the copyright was timely renewed, the copyright is in effect until 2024.

    It's now fairly easy to find renewals. For example, they can be found at the Copyright Renewal Records website (http://www.scils.rutgers.edu/~lesk/copyrenew.html) and the Online Books Page (http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/cce/). McGraw-Hill did in fact renew the copyright in 1956 (27 years after). The record follows:

    GREGG, JOHN ROBERT. Gregg shorthand; a light-line phonography for the million. Anniversary ed. copyright on entirely new reorganization & presentation of rules & principles p. i–xvi, 1–173; 7May29; A8022. McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc. (PWH) 24Aug56; R175814.

    I have attached the scanned original as well. Hope that answers your question!

  7. So from what I'm understanding here, to avoid copyright infringement you will need to (1) come up with a new version presented differently from any of the manuals published after 1922, or (2) republish Pre-Anniversary Gregg, or (3) ask MGH for their blessing/permission to produce any updated versions of the system.


  8. Has everyone forgotten I worked for McGraw-Hill?

    The actual strokes are copyrighted and jealously protected. The one time the copyright was allowed to lapse, we got the system whose name escapes me, the one where vowels are always turned in the same direction no matter how awkward the outline. . . .

    If you're going to publish a "new" system, your G better not look like a Gregg G. Your A better not be a big circle, etc.


  9. So Marc, besides protecting the system,
    is there any strategy to bring it alive again?

    For a big publisher, I can't imagine it would be too hard
    to cause a big influence simply be re-releasing an old version with updated brief forms and sell it to school systems.
    Although what do I know!!!

  10. This is a really interesting thread.

    I went to the McGraw Hill website and did a search on "shorthand" and came up with nothing. Then I did a search on Gregg and came up with one reference "With the acquisitions of the Gregg company (a publisher of vocational textbooks) . . " So it appears that McGraw Hill has chosen to distance itself from any association with shorthand.

    Traditionally an author with an idea for a book would first approach a publisher with a proposal. Why not put something together and present it to McGraw Hill (without any gratuitous comments about whether or not they own the rights) and see what happens. If they give you a contract and an advance, you're golden.

    If they don't give you a contract, then move on. It's hard to see how they can "copyright" the strokes. My introduction to intellectual property law was pretty brief, but the comment earlier that one can copyright the expression of an idea but not the idea itself agrees with the straightforward understanding I have. In the creative writing field, there is a right in the names and identities of characters and plot — so I would hesitate to do an unauthorized sequel to Gone With the Wind. They could perhaps have patented the system, but that would have long since expired.

    In any event, before investing a lot of effort, it would be well to get an opinion from a very knowledgeable intellectual property attorney.

    I'd hate to see any attempt to "improve" the system. At this point Gregg, in some form or another, has been taught to 100s of thousands. It's been studied and refined to a fare thee well. There are already far more variants than needed. If you want speed, there's Anniversary. If you want ease of learning for note-taking, there's Series 90 or Notehand. If you want something in between, there's Simplified or DJS. I would think that suggesting some brief forms for modern usage would be as far as one should go in terms of modifications.

    But there is a real need for an updated book. Some thought needs to be put into the potential market, but we've already covered many of the points.

    The audience appears to be largely people who will teach themselves, so it needs to be a "self-help" type book.

    I see most new writers as people who are taking notes. Some here are legal assistants who may rarely take dictation, but when I was a young lawyer, the skill I wanted most was the ability to take quick and accurate notes in an interview. I've mentioned law, but people in most professional fields would benefit.

    I also see most new writers as being intelligent and self-motivated. Shorthand still has a negative image because these are not the people to whom it had been marketed within the last few decades. I know I'm not alone in feeling I would have been laughed out of the class if I'd tried to take it in high school, and even today friends of my generation visibly sneer when they see I'm trying to learn it. It's not viewed as a desirable skill. And the market for the office assistant who takes shorthand is dried up.

    So any new book has to focus on a new market, and has to clearly speak to the intelligent, professional reader. That doesn't mean it should be as sparse as the original manual, but it should be intelligent.

    And back to intellectual property, it's hard for me to see that McGraw Hill could legitimately challenge a self help book aimed at a new market. In fact, they might be happy to publish such a book.

    Give it a try.

  11. The demand for such a volume would probably not be great enough for them to go to the expense of production.  I've never been able to find any Gregg Shorthand materials on the McGraw-Hill site.   What do we envision as the purpose of this updated edition?  Would this be just a collection of updated outlines and briefs for the more common technical words out there these days?  There have been some suggestions made here that are really good regarding working with web addresses and the like and it would be good to have a reference tool for the collection of good ideas..    Which version of the theory would be the springboard for this update?   If McGraw-Hill is vigilent about unauthorized use of their intellectual property, there's no harm is asking how they feel about it.    One of the things I wish we could be able to do is get some of the reading materials republished — expecially the literature.  I finally read the Legend of Sleepy Hollow in shorthand and found it to be really good at expanding my literary vocabulary.  Also, some of the materials in the Gregg Writers were great.  It would be nice to be able to republish those.  There's a lot of good reading material and suggestions throughout.   Wishful thinking for the most part.  🙂

  12. There's a very odd book in my library which is a dictionary of lumber industry terminology in Gregg – Simplified, I guess.   Do you think they asked for permission from McGraw Hill to publish this?   Here's the info:   Handbook for lumber offices.
    Portland, Or. : West Coast Lumbermen's Assn., [1962], c1953. 
    Subjects Lumber trade — Handbooks, manuals, etc.
        Lumbering — Terminology.
        Shorthand — Gregg.
    Edition:  Rev. 1962.
    Description:  32 p. ; 28 cm.
    Added Author:  West Coast Lumbermen's Association.

  13. I envision at least one book which would be a self help course for learning Gregg. It would include brief forms appropriate to contemporary notetaking. But the main focus would be as a learning manual.

    The existing materials seem to assume there's a teacher in the classroom, although many on this group seem to be finding that the books are useable for self instruction. Certainly the teacher (or more accurately the curriculum) determined when people would move on. And you had tests which gave you feedback on how you were doing. What I would add would be more criteria for self-study, something on the order of "you're ready to leave this section when you can read the following paragraphs and write the following words without hesitation."

    Choice of a system would be a subject for debate. I would choose Simplified based on the frequent comment that it's a good compromise. I was looking over Notehand the other day, and in comparison it does seem unnecessarily cumbersome. I know there are some who think DJS would be a better balance between ease of learning and functionality.

    I would follow the format of the Functional Method for the most part, although I do think I would also have people start writing simple outlines early on. For my learning so far, a little writing and a lot of reading seems to be pretty effective. Maybe start introducing the most frequent words as they do in the Anniversary Manual.

    What this means is that someone serious about the project would need to provide a lot of "plates." Charles Rader is no longer available.

    On the other hand, in todays print on demand market production would be much cheaper. In the Gregg days producing the "plates" was an expensive process. Today it's just a matter of scanning them into the computer. The fact that there would be only a small market would not be an impediment. McGraw Hill might or might not consider it worthwhile. The fact that they do not mention shorthand anywhere on their web site suggests that they wouldn't. But there are many smaller houses that might. TAB books comes to mind as one possibility, and they might handle any required negotiations with McGraw Hill.

    On the lumber books, if McGraw Hill licensed it, there will most certainly be some phrase on the title page somewhere. If there isn't, that would be one more piece of evidence that McGraw Hill effectively abandoned whatever claim they had to control books being published using the Gregg system.

    Just some thoughts from someone who would be a potential customer for such a book.

  14. Those 'friends' who sneer at you, need something else to worry about than your shorthand learning.

    It doesn't matter if you're learning shorthand, morse code, or a pi to 1000 decimal places, they should respect your enthusiasm to learn. I've faced people as well who are too concerned about 'employment' skills more than anything else.

    I'm sure in general your workplace is a supportive and friendly place, but no one should be sneering at a perfectly legitimate skill.

  15. >> Those 'friends' who sneer at you, need something else
    >> to worry about than your shorthand learning.
    It was a friendly sneer. Two of my friends are artists. As young women they had been told they should learn shorthand so they could earn a living. They sneered at that advice as well. 🙂

    >> The functional method books are a good model,
    >> though the explanations sometimes are
    >> lacking or confusing.
    Part of the reason I felt they were intended to be used with a teacher. My dream book would have the explanations similar to the manual, plus lots of reading material. The early lessons would have a limited amount of material to write, but not much in relation to the amount of reading.

    I'd keep the tests in the same book — after all it's for self-learning. And I'd avoid the urge to dumb down the material. But you're right that all too many self-help books try to make it look simple and easy to learn.

    You know, the "Whatever for Dummies" books are sometimes pretty good.

    It's fun to talk about these ideas. Actually putting together and publishing a book still takes a lot of hard work and perseverance. Of course, there are many people in this group who have just those qualities. It could happen!

  16. I have the teacher's manual for the Functional Method books written by Leslie in 1936.  It's true:  the presentation in the books was meant to be presented orally to the students and the outlines written on the board.  They students were supposed to spell out the outlines as they were written, then he would point at the words in various order and have the class repeat the words out loud.  This would be the best way to present the material.  Spell out the characters, say the word, then have fast review.    It is much easier to learn this stuff in a classroom environment.  It's especially helpful when learning the basics.  From what I can tell from his writing, Louis Leslie was a fantastic shorthand teacher.  The outlines that you don't spell out are the brief forms.  Since they are arbitrary and shortened, it's not useful in impressing the word building principles.    However, with the right kind of discipline, you can be a self-didact and get it done.  Many of the early shorthand stars were self-taught.  The only difficulty really is getting dictation practice.  With the myriad recorders we have available now, as well as third-party vendors, you can find all kind of stuff out there. 

  17. Back when I took Simplified in high school we used the Functional Manual and the exact procedure described by AnniversaryFan1 for Anniversary Functional was followed … apparently spelling out the outlines from the blackboard was standard practice by teachers in the classroom.

  18. I agree with you in that such a manual should include self-study procedures, and some sort of testing (perhaps in a handbook). The potential problem with self-study books is that they tend to dilute the presentation of the material, perhaps because the authors think that they should make the book more attractive to the masses. Also, the practice exercises tend to be minimal, so in the end, the student won't be learning much.

    The functional method books are a good model, though the explanations sometimes are lacking or confusing.

    I would also include in the book specialized vocabulary, and I would introduce reporting shortcuts from the very beginning, instead of learning the brief form, and then the shortcut — to me that doesn't make any sense whatsoever. Learning something, to then later on unlearning it.

    Writing the plates is not the difficult part. The most difficult part is selecting material that is graded, interesting, and that represents a good collection of literature, especially for a beginning book. I'm amazed at the amount of interesting material that they put together for the functional method manual for the Anniversary book and for the third edition of Gregg Speed Studies, even though these are beginner's books. I bet that a lot of those selections were cooked for that purpose. For that reason, it would easier to write a dictation or speed building book, as opposed to an introductory manual, as you can rely of literature that has been printed (though there you would need to get permission to use anything that has been already published in other media).

  19. I personally liked the combination of Fundamental Drills and Anniversary Manual to learn. I have learned from a lot of textbooks in my schooling, and no doubt I can say the Gregg Manual was the most logical and systematic manual.

    It is of course true that unlike Physics or Media Studies, Shorthand is a much more systematic subject, but at the same time, I think modern books could downsize a little bit and make learning much more systematic.

    If you've seen modern school textbooks, you'll be lucky to find one under 400 A4 pages. When I open the Anniversary manual its much less intimidating because its only 17cm high and 13cm wide and with hardly any thickness to it. You should've seen my last semesters book — 1200 pages, it looked like an encyclopedia even though it was only covering first year physics. I never really ended up using that book. If there was a small book with important physics concepts and a few choice examples, I would've used it much more.

    Can someone on this forum do it. Unless theres some serious motivation; like a school system waiting to adopt your book, this probably won't happen. None of us will write a whole book for the 400 of us on this forum. Mainly because the people on this forum have already learned shorthand through other books, and are not gonna complain about 'dray' or 'remittance' popping up once in a while.

  20. I like Chuck's idea of a self-teaching Manual which would incorporate reporting shortcuts and phrases from get-go. Using the 1902 and 1916 Manuals for your basic approach (but with updated vocabulary) and borrowing the idea of samples of written shorthand from that massive library of literary and reporting material that exists for pre-Anniversary Gregg … you would have to "cook" examples; i.e., "Jim, read your email an hour ago. Even though you have some good ideas, I don't think you've really thought over what chaos your suggestions could cause in the workplace. Why don't you use our software and study all the possibilities? Jeff" — anyway, you get the idea.
    In the projected "new" Manual you really should emphasize phrases as much as possible, like the 1902 Manual and 1917 Speed Studies. And be sure to introduce the most common words in the English language early so the learners will be able to read complete sentences.
    The book should be set up with each Lesson divided into 4 parts. 1) New theory and briefs with some reading practice. 2) Connected material reading and writing practice. 3) Dictation and vocabulary development. 5) Theory review and test to ensure comprehension. After every 4 Lessons there should be a thorough review Lesson of all theory, briefs, phrases and derivatives studied and learned up to that point.
    I would heartily recommend Anniversary as your base system but if you prefer, Simplified but with greater emphasis on the abbreviating principle and going back to Anniversary modifications of outlines in phrasing. DJS as the systemic base is out of the question since so many briefs and most phrasing was thrown out.
    So, who has the time and energy to develop this Manual?

  21. Back to McGraw-Hill. A quick search in the European website lists two entries for Gregg Shorthand in their catalog (Simplified and Centennial):   http://www.mcgraw-hill.co.uk/cgi-bin/search_title_in_all.pl?by=title&user_input=shorthand&start=1   And in their Latin American site, they have two entries for "Taquigraf챠a Gregg": Series 90 and Centennial (which in Spanish are exactly the same theory, just a slightly different presentation).   So it appears that they are still printing these books.      

  22. This is a rather interesting discussion.

    There seem to be a number of different issues being discussed. The original poster talked about whether a person could develop an updated version of Gregg. Many of the other posts concern republishing old Gregg books.

    I'm not a lawyer. I have some exposure to copyright and trademark issues in my work as a TV producer, although certainly not an expert knowledge. But from the little I know, it sounds like the issues discussed here cover a number of quite different intellectual property issues.

    First, I have my doubts that the system itself is protected by anything. One poster suggested that anyone publishing a shorthand system where the G looked like a Gregg G would be violating the rights of McGraw Hill. This seems extremely unlikely to me. The history of shorthand has many examples of systems imitating earlier systems – sometimes to the point of being nearly identical.

    If teacher taught Gregg shorthand to a student, without using Gregg materials, have they violated anyone's intellectual property? I don't think so. And if a person has learned Gregg, do they need anyone's permission to draw (ie copy) those distinctive Gregg letters? Of course not. The system is designed to be used for writing, and the writer could presumably, publish what they write. They're not a licensee.

    (It would be different if, say, you transcribed Lord of the Rings by hand. That would definitely be a violation of copyright.)

    The issues about protecting a shorthand alphabet are complex, but there's an interesting discussion (from the late 1800s) here. http://books.google.ca/books?id=kwMCAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA99 . This was a long time ago, but I suspect the same issues are still valid today.

    It looks like it would be difficult for the "owner" of any shorthand system to protect a way of writing. Copyright protects things that can be copied exactly – the way an idea is expressed, but not the idea itself. You could certainly protect a specific Gregg computer font, or the wording in a Gregg manual.

    If the Gregg "system" is protected by anything, it's a patent – but even if there was a current patent protecting the Gregg system (which I doubt), it would probably be quite easy for someone to come up with a slightly modified Gregg and claim it was not covered by the original patent.

    I came across this Sri Lankan legal case, where two person had devised a shorthand system for the local language, both using the Gregg alphabet, and then one sued the other for copyright violation. One of the people had obtained permission from McGraw Hill, but one of the comments by the judge (I think) is that there's no evidence that McGraw Hill actually owns copyright to the system itself.

    The other issue is trademark. The name of the system – Gregg – may well be registered as a trademark. So you might find you could publish your own instruction manual, but not be able to call it Gregg in the title. I suspect you could republish old manuals where the book is now in public domain, but, if Gregg Shorthand is a trademark, you'd probably have to either change the title, or include some kind of disclaimer distancing it from the current published versions of Gregg.

    Anyway, I find it all very interesting.


  23. Michael,

    For physics and calculus and algebra, try Shaum's outlines. I've been impressed with several of them. They manage to cover the important things without taking up 400 pages. Most subjects now have a standard order for covering topics, and Shaum's uses that order. (BTW, Shaum's is now owned by McGraw-Hill. Ironic?)


  24. >> It would be different if, say, you transcribed Lord of the Rings by hand. >> That would definitely be a violation of copyright. But the copyright which was violated would by Tolkien's, not Gregg's. I glanced through some of my Gregg books this morning.  Yes, they say "Gregg Shorthand."  But nowhere can I find a notice that the system is protected by patent, trademark, or copyright, or that it's use is licensed.  I know intellectual property law has changed since the adoption of the Berne Convention by the U.S. in 1988.  But that applies only to copyright and we can all agree that the books are protected. But the system itself is another matter.  The books don't claim any right in the system.  The Simplified manual say the manual is offered to the teaching profession …etc.  It also says that the publishers acknowledge the suggestions received … which have been incorporated.  The system has been taught widely to 100s of thousands over a century now.  It's almost the poster child of public domain.  Certainly there would be no possible objection to a new book teaching the system. On trademark, there's an acknowledgment in the DJS manual that to many people the terms "Gregg" and "shorthand" are synonymous.  You won't find Kleenex allowing their trademark to slip away so easily.  And even with a trademark in place, Microsoft can't stop authors from writing books about how to use Windows.  Another interesting detail is the recent re-publication of Most Used Words for Simplified by Kessinger Publishing Co.  Surely that's still copyrighted.  Be interesting to see what arrangement they made. Bottom line, the only real impediment to writing a new self-teaching book is the hard work of actually doing it.:-)

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