Will America's public domain treasures finally be freed?

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez, "John Podesta and I have written an open letter to President Obama calling for the creation of a Federal Scanning Commission, tasking this body with developing a strategy for digitizing .gov. Today, we do not scan at scale and there is a huge untapped storehouse buried in federal institutions such as the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution, National Archives, and scores of others. Our open letter is linked to a White House petition. We hope people will consider these issues and sign the petition."


  1. Signed #65.

    I’d also like to see some kind of team of special forces librarians who can zip line in to save priceless libraries like that getting destroyed in Egypt right now.

  2. Often when we think of digitizing documents we think of OCR programs being processed by overworked government employees. But did you know that the latest trend is to crowd source armies of volunteers to do the transcription? Check out this initiative to transcribe thousands of US War Department documents from the 18th century – documents long thought to have been lost in a fire in 1805. You can sign up and start transcribing documents in minutes. http://wardepartmentpapers.org/

    There is even open source software that can help you digitize archives of your own family or community via crowd sourcing. Check out: http://beta.fromthepage.com/ According to the developer’s description “FromThePage is free software that allows volunteers to transcribe handwritten documents on-line. It’s easy to index and annotate subjects within a text using a simple, wiki-like mark-up. Users can discuss difficult writing or obscure words within a page to refine their transcription. The resulting text is hosted on the web, making documents easy to read and search.” It’s brilliant software that I plan to introduce to our local historical society.

  3. The phrase “A national digitization strategy can save money” is what is keeping me from signing this petition. The only way digitization “saves money” is by assuming the storage of the originals is no longer necessary. It is a simple fact from history that digitization almost always includes the destruction of the original sources.

    1. Every now and then you see a scan of the old book where fold-outs have been treated as single pages, and flipped past, their contents skipped. Sometimes you see the very edge of an illustration.

      It does make me wonder just how much will be lost to history because people simply assume the digital copies cover everything.

  4. Somebody set up us the public domain? Connect internet.
    UMG/Sony/Warner: All your content is belong to us. You have no chance to prevail in court make your time.
    For great justice!

  5. Hey, Cory and others, there are two identical (except for the titles) petitions on whitehouse.gov for this cause, both of which look to have been created by Carl Malamud.  In any case, the one linked to in the post above is not the same one that is linked from yeswescan.org (and this one has fewer signatures).  I signed both of them but I’d hate to see neither one reach critical mass since the signatures are split.

  6. Hi Seth. The Whitehouse system a little screwy, you can’t delete a petition. So, there are indeed two that are live. The “correct” petition is linked from https://YesWeScan.Org/ but the text is identical on the other one, so no harm if people sign the other one. I’ll petition the petition-master to combine the petitions if that becomes an issue.

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