Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Call for OA to database of copyright registrations

Tim O'Reilly, Carl Malamud Tackles the Copyright Office, O'Reilly Radar, September 17, 2007.  Excerpt:

Carl Malamud and Peter Brantley just let me know about another public interest letter, this one sent off to the Copyright Office this afternoon:

We are writing to you today to ask you to provide bulk access to the copyright catalog of monographs, documents, and serials on the Internet. Today this information is available through two means:

  1. The Copyright Office maintains a web-based application that allows the public to search for individual records. However, no bulk access is available: one cannot download the entire database.
  2. The Cataloging and Distribution Service of the Library of Congress sells a current subscription for $31,500 and makes the retrospective database available for $55,125 for a total cost of entry of $86,625. The Library of Congress Terms of Use assert copyright on this data.

The copyright catalog of monographs, documents, and serials is not a product, it is fuel that makes the copyright system work. Anybody should be able to download the entire database to their desktop, write a better search application, or use this public domain information to research copyright questions.

A price tag of $86,625 places this database beyond the reach of university libraries, small businesses that wish to provide a better copyright search service, and academics or citizens wishing to analyze the copyright registration process. Additionally, setting copyright restrictions on the copyright database, a “work of the United States Government,” runs directly counter to the well-established principle that such works shall be in the public domain. ...

As a short-term expedient, should the Copyright Office be unable to obtain permission to make these data freely and directly available, we would like to offer to set up a collective fund for purchase of a single copy of the database, making it available for anyone to use. This would provide a public distribution channel--a safety valve for public access to this vital public database. We ask only that you help us clarify that there is no copyright on the database so that we may freely redistribute it.

P.S. In email to me, Carl mentioned the circumstances that led to this letter, which, in addition to Carl, is signed by Peter Brantley, executive director of the Digital Library Federation; Michael Keller, the University Librarian for Stanford University; noted copyright law professor Pamela Samuelson of UC Berkeley; Duane Webster, the executive director of the Association of Research Libraries; Gigi Sohn, president of the advocacy group Public Knowledge; H. Carton Rogers, the Vice Provost & Director of Libraries, University of Pennsylvania; Ann Wolpert, the library director at MIT; Robert Darnton, the director of the Harvard University Library; Thomas C. Leonard, the head librarian at the University of California, Berkeley; and Rick Prelinger, the board president of the Internet Archive....

Comment.  I'm delighted to see Carl Malamud strike again, and delighted to see his latest campaign gather so many weighty allies.  He and his organization, Public Resource, have a knack for finding public information locked down under erroneous copyright claims and a knack for prying it loose.

Update. The Copyright Office responded in a blog post on September 26, 2007. In short, the answer is no. The Copyright Office provides access to the database on a cost-recovery basis, without responding to the argument that it should provide OA instead. Nor does it respond to the argument that the database is in the public domain.

Update. Success! For details and comments, see my post from October 1, 2007.