Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Easier proof that PD books are PD

David Weinberg, Did lord knows how many books just enter the public domain, thanks to Google and some good-hearted folk?  Joho the blog, June 25, 2008.  Excerpt:

Jacob Kramer-Duffield at the Berkman Center explains the significance of Google’s new ability to search the copyright renewal notices for books published between 1923 and 1963. Publishers of those books had to file a renewal notice to hold on to their copyrights. It’s been very difficult to determine whether those notices were ever filed, so, when in doubt, we’ve assumed that they’re protected, even though most of them undoubtedly are not. This is known as the “orphaned works” problem.

But, thanks to a gargantuan effort by a whole bunch of people — thank you! — that information has been digitized and Google can search it. Google Book Search and The Open Content Alliance will use this list to provide open access to works that otherwise were kept out of the hands of the public because their copyright status just couldn’t be determined.

Project Gutenberg, The Universal Library Project, and the Distributed Proofreaders deserve a lot of credit, praise, and hosannahs for accomplishing this task.

Comment.  It can be incredibly difficult to determine the copyright status of a given work, even when we know the author, year and country of publication.   See for example the flowcharts from Cornell, Harvard, and the U of North Carolina, the problem of orphan works, and Denise Troll Covey's important research on Acquiring Copyright Permission to Digitize and Provide Open Access to Books.  But as long as the determination depends on published information, it was only a matter of time before the relevant information was digitized and made open to search engines.  I love the way we'll now be able to move a large number of books from the domain of unknown status, where institutions feel impelled to err on the side of assuming copyright, to the provable public domain.  I also love the way we can now use free information to free information.

Update.  For much more detail, see Barbara Quint, 1923–1963: Google Book Search Targeting More Books for Public Domain? Information Today NewsBreaks, June 26, 2008.