Prof's crusade to liberate public documents

Peacay sez, "Professor Erik Ringmar (Taiwan) explains his modus operandi for making public documents that have been usurped by private document delivery services free for all:"
What I do is hack into restricted websites, download the documents I'm interested in, and then use my favourite open-source paint program to remove the copyright statements from each page. Next I assemble the pages into one single pdf file and upload it to the Internet Archive, where it will become universally available to both researchers and citizens.
Link (Thanks, Peacay!)

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  1. Can he do that without fear of judges because he lives in Taiwan, or just because he hasn’t been caught (yet)?

  2. #1: Do what? Hard to tell without knowing what “hack[ing] into restricted websites” means.

    The way the term has gotten watered down nowadays, it could mean he signs up through a library proxy with a throwaway email address. Or “to hack” is simply used as a synonym for “sign up with the intention to download much more than the average user”. Or he uses a borrowed password. Then he might have a problem.

    But getting at the documents doesn’t really seem to be the issue here, it’s the redistribution.

    The problem is that some companies falsely and deceptively claim copyright on public domain documents, holding them for ransom, essentially. You can’t claim exclusive rights on reproductions of public domain documents. But a few people are trying to establish just this.

    They argue that if you reproduce these documents you’re stealing from them. In order to protect their revenue they want to take away your right to redistribute free information. If we just sit there and accept this corruption of copyright we legitimatize it.

    So… GO ERIK!! Maybe join forces with the http://public.resource.org/ project? (the page has backlinks to similar stories at boingboing!)

  3. What about libraries that have Medieval documents, and forbid you from copying them and redistributing them? Is that against copyright law? US? International?

  4. #3 Those are definitely public domain, and its legal for you to copy and redistribute according to US law. Other countries vary.

  5. This is not black and white … he is residing in Taiwan, writing for a British publication about both US and British publications.

    His comments about ProQuest are, at best, disingenuous. BTW, ProQuest is claiming copyright on the digitized versions of the materials, of which they have done the heavy lifting to get online.

    Putting materials into the Internet Archives of which you cannot claim “ownership” or “creation” may poison the well. Go reread the terms of use for the Internet Archives and tell me the wisdom of his approach …

    I’m not defending ProQuest; just saying that this may not be the brightest way to go about “freeing information.”

  6. audiozoloft says:
    >>BTW, ProQuest is claiming copyright on the digitized versions of the materials, of which they have done the heavy lifting to get online.

    Just because ProQuest did “heavy lifting” to get docs online doesn’t mean they have a copyright in those docs — or any other right to stop people from copying or distributing the digitized documents (at least under US law).

    A US copyright covers the content of a work, not the form in which it is published. If a work is in the public domain and I scan it and publish it online, I cannot claim a copyright to that content – so you are free to copy and re-publish my scans.

    There are two exceptions to this rule. (1) if ProQuest adds new copyrightable content to the documents, they have a right to protect just that new content; and (2) a “collection” of public domain information is copyrightable, but only the unique way in which the information is collected and organized (e.g. the order of documents or the table of contents) is copyrightable, and only if that organization is original (e.g. alphabetical sorting doesn’t count).

    Neither of these exceptions would apply to someone merely redistributing an image that ProQuest scanned from a public domain document.

  7. #5: A copy of a 2-dimensional public domain work is still a public domain work. There is no such thing as a copyright on “digitized versions”. They can’t claim this. The guiding U.S. case law is Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp., 36 F. Supp. 2d 191 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (Wikipedia)

    Sure, expect more legal fighting in the future. There’s money involved. And there’s grasping for power involved. Until then, it’s perfectly legal for anyone to do anything they want with public domain material. It’s our damn right. Take it away from us, we dare you.

    People must not let themselves be stopped from sharing free information simply out of fear that some overreaching claim might be valid. Every single millimetre that you give in to these FUD campaigns is an irrecoverably lost freedom right.

  8. My point is that the irresponsible attitude of “Let’s just put it up on the Internet Archives” damages the Archives in the long run.

    Like I said, I’m NOT defending ProQuest (with whom I deal on an indirect basis daily).

    Or is thinking about what you are doing now a crime?

  9. #5 –
    >>Putting materials into the Internet Archives of which you cannot claim “ownership” or “creation” may poison the well. Go reread the terms of use for the Internet Archives and tell me the wisdom of his approach …< < Hmmm. Yeah, I just read the terms. It looks like the whole point of the Internet Archives is to host public domain materials. So by posting public domain materials to the Archive, this professor is serving the purpose of the Archive. #8 - >>My point is that the irresponsible attitude of “Let’s just put it up on the Internet Archives” damages the Archives in the long run.<< I just don't get what is "irresponsible" here?? He's posting important public domain works to a site expressly designed for that purpose....

  10. #6 DAN7000 ,

    Just because ProQuest did “heavy lifting” to get docs online doesn’t mean they have a copyright in those docs.


    A US copyright covers the content of a work, not the form in which it is published.

    Although I’m sure you know your subject, I wonder how the following examples tally with your quotes above.

    1. Music has a copyright made up of two separate copyright forms, the content itself (separate from the medium), and the ‘mechanical” copyright, the medium itself.
    The writer of the work holds the first, and the person (or label) who physically recorded it to a medium, holds the second.

    2. When a photographer takes a picture of a public domain painting, the photographer holds the copyright to the produced image, even though the subject is uncopyrightable. For a specific example here, look at museum/gallery catalogues/posters/postcards, the photographs they use to create this merchandise are copyrighted, but the subjucets are not.

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