Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Copyfraud and the public domain

Carol Ebbinghouse, 'Copyfraud' and Public Domain Works, The Searcher, January 2008 (accessible only to subscribers).  Thanks to Free Government Information for the alert and for this excerpt:

You find a PDF version of the Federalist Papers on the internet that is just what you need, but it carries a copyright date of 2001. Now that's odd, considering that the last Federalist paper was written and published in 1788. Cautious, you find an ASCII text version, but it has a copyright date of 1999. Can you download this one? Does the fact that one is an image and the other plain text make any difference? And how the heck does anything written in the 18th century end up with post-1923 copyright dates?

Can someone legitimately move public domain text into copyright? What about when you go to an archive, only to find open source and nonpublic domain titles mixed in with public domain items, but the archive seems to put restrictions on your subsequent use of everything (no copying without permission; no commercial re-use, etc.)? ...

As Jason Mazzone points out, "Copyright law suffers from a basic defect: The law's strong protections for copyrights are not balanced by explicit protections for the public domain. Accordingly, copyright law itself creates strong incentives for copyfraud. The limited penalties for copyfraud under the Copyright Act, coupled with weak enforcement … give publishers an incentive to claim ownership, however spurious, in everything. Although falsely claiming copyright is technically a criminal offense under the Act [17 U.S.C. §506(c)] prosecutions are extremely rare. Moreover, the Copyright Act provides no civil penalty for claiming copyrights in public domain materials. … [and] no federal agency is specially charged with safeguarding the public domain.