I don't know about you, but I feel 'over' zombies and Cthulu and things like that. Many of the most widely-used settings, characters and themes are common because they're free to use—but there's a long and endless list of under-utilized public domain works that could spark the imagination if used as prompts.
The recent Public Domain Jam has spawned a whole bunch of new works (scroll down for the games) about Captain Ahab, Captain Hook, Cinderella, Dorian Gray and lots more that any fan of classics might like to peruse.
Granbury High School Computer Club submitted Jabberwocky, a short game based on the Lewis Carroll poem (rock on, cool teens!), while Moonlight, based on the beginning of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, looks absolutely gorgeous:
You can try Moonlight for free here.
Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez, "On May 1 (Friday) at the Internet Archive in San Francisco, I'm going to be running a 'PACER Polling Place' from 8am-5pm. I hope you'll stop by and give me a hand."
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Michael Geist writes, "On World Book and Copyright Day, it is worth noting how Graham Henderson, the President of Music Canada (formerly the Canadian Recording Industry Association) characterized the government's decision to extend the term of copyright in sound recordings and performances:"
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Jennifer Jenkins writes, "What could have been entering the public domain in the US on January 1, 2015? Under the law that existed until 1978 -- Works from 1958. The films 'Attack of the 50 Foot Woman,' 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,' and 'Gigi,' the books 'Our Man in Havana,' 'The Once and Future King,' and 'Things Fall Apart,' the songs 'All I Have to Do Is Dream' and 'Yakety Yak,' and more -- What is entering the public domain this January 1? Not a single published work."
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Elliot from Creative Commons writes, "Your readers might remember the Public Domain Game Jam from a few months ago -- next Tues, Sep 9 people in San Francisco will be able to play the games from it and discuss them with jam organizer Nicky Case and then Parker Higgins from the Electronic Frontier Foundation will be talking about why the public domain is under attack, and what you can do to defend it."
CC Salon in San Francisco: Public Domain FTW!
Kalev Leetaru programatically recovered all the images that were discarded by the OCR program that digitizes the millions of public domain books scanned by the Archive; these were cropped, cleaned up, and uploaded to Flickr with the text that appears before and after them, and links to see their whole scanned page.
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Susan writes, "Over 22K game developers from all over the world (72 countries) came together this past weekend (January 24-26) at the annual Global Game Jam (GGJ). This year's event was record breaking, having churned out over 4K games with the theme 'We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.' The yearly event focusing on collaboration, experimentation and innovation in games challenges developers of all skill levels. The jam is about creating community as well as creating games, all jams are physical jams where you have a chance to grow your skills and your network. Add to that the event prides itself on being hardware and software agnostic -- open to digital and analog games that are open source adhering to a Creative Common's license.
"As if making a game from start to finish with your new found friends at one of the 400+ local jams isn't hard enough, the GGJ offers diversifiers help challenge developers just a bit more. This year GGJ decided to honor the memory of the late Aaron Swartz by creating a diversifier that asks the developer of the game to only use materials found in the public domain. The Global Game Jam is a volunteer based 501c3 looking to share the universal language of games around the world while generating a buzz of creativity for everyone to feed from."
Global Game Jam
As Copyright Week continues, here's a pair of posts focusing on the importance of the public domain. First off, a guest editorial from Wikimedia's lawyers on the role of the public domain in the creation and maintenance of Wikipedia, one of the most amazing and important phenomena of the Internet age:
We must defend a vibrant public domain if we want collaborative projects like Wikipedia to continue to thrive. When material is removed from the public domain, it damages projects like Wikipedia and impacts Wikipedia readers and reusers at large. We are disappointed in the decision in Golan v. Holder, which removed content in the public domain by upholding the the Uruguay Round Agreements Act of 1994. Given the impact of the URAA on Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Foundation joined EFF in an amicus brief challenging the URAA a few years ago. When copyright is restored in a work, the public domain suffers. The immediate result is that Wikipedia is not as rich, because removing material from the public domain means that work previously available on Wikipedia may need to be removed.
Next, Techdirt's Mike Masnick reminds us that the public domain has been stolen from the public wholesale, through a series of economically and morally indefensible extensions of copyright that put that which rightly belongs to all of us into private hands:
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It's Public Domain day again -- the day when music, books and movies enter the public domain in countries where copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 50 years (hint: not the USA).
But as John Mark Ockerbloom points out, the list of life+50 countries keeps getting shorter, as more and more countries are arm-twisted into extending their copyright terms by the US Trade Representative. And increasingly, countries are passing regressive copyright laws that take works out of the public domain and put them back into copyright -- an insane policy that ends up criminalizing new art that incorporates the old, and that provides no new incentive to create (give Elvis or the Beatles 50 more years of copyright if you like, they're still not going to record any more music).
It's not all bad news: between the Hathi Trust lawsuit (which held it legal to scan old, in-copyright books under some circumstances) and the growth of Creative Commons licenses.
There's urgent work to be done. We need to fight copyright term extension, to expand fair use and fair dealing, increase access to orphan works, and discredit and destroy the new practice of making global copyright law through secretive treaty negotiations like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, and the Open Knowledge Foundation are all working to bring copyright into line with the modern world, and to stop its from being used for censorship and surveillance.
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The British Library has uploaded one million public domain scans from 17th-19th century books to Flickr! They're embarking on an ambitious programme to crowdsource novel uses and navigation tools for the huge corpus. Already, the manifest of image descriptions is available through Github. This is a remarkable, public spirited, archival project, and the British Library is to be loudly applauded for it!
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Stewart Butterfield tells how a few million dollars worth of art, created for a beloved massively-multiplayer game, ended up in the public domain after its death.Read the rest
Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Stanford history prof Paula Findlen discusses the renaissance of 19th century scholarship occasioned by the mass-digitization of 19th century literature. This was only possible, of course, because the copyright on these works had expired. Findlen, who doesn't study the 19th century per se, nevertheless found the wide and deep catalog of available 19th century materials meant that an overall awareness of the literature and culture of the era has permeated historians and other scholars.
By the standards of the 21st century -- or even the mid-20th -- the 19th century record is sparse to the point of nonexistence. But the lack of restrictions on duplication and -- especially -- indexing means that this world is particularly vivid for people who are paying attention.
As I've noted, I love 19th century Punch almanacs, love their physicality, but the mass-digitization and cross-referencing of them makes the physical ones a thousand times better.
This rediscovery of the 19th century as an open-source reading experience is accompanied by a subtle appreciation of the era’s intellectual merits. Consider the quantity of material—obscure novels, local histories, antique catalogs, minor journals, a sea of biographies, and those vast and terrifyingly erudite bibliographies that were a specialty of that age of scholarship...
...We now have access to one of the most valuable tools of archival and bibliographic research: the 19th-century catalog. It often contains precious annotations of the process by which living artifacts become a historical record—the quirky details that tend to be lost in modern information systems, which strip away the idiosyncrasies of personalized description in favor standardized data. In a way, the experience of using Google to access the 19th century has enriched our ability to work in the physical archives and libraries that many of us still consider to be the epicenter of scholarship. I am constantly moving between my Victorian online experience and the far richer evidence available at some brick-and-mortar libraries.
How Google Rediscovered the 19th Century
Here's a photo from Jacob Riis's 1890 classic "How the Other Half Lives," "an early publication... documenting squalid living conditions in New York City slums in the 1880s." It shows "Bandit’s Roost, at 59½ Mulberry Street (Mulberry Bend), was the most crime-ridden, dangerous part of all New York City."
Those guys are clearly total bad-asses.
How the Other Half Lives is in the public domain; you can download the full book, listen to a free audio edition at Librivox, and choose from among several editions in print.
Bandit’s Roost (1888)
The Public Domain Review has a nice gallery of plates from Lieutenant Colonel Frank Sheffield's 1902 book "How I killed the tiger; being an account of my encounter with a royal Bengal tiger, with an appendix containing some general information about India," which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like:
My main purpose in writing this little book, was to place in a permanent form a description of my wonderful preservation from death in a chance encounter with a Royal Bengal Tiger. My life had been adventurous up to that time. I had shot big game of various kinds. But this episode, so marvellous in itself, so important in its influence upon my after life and character, marks the close of my career as a hunter of big game.
Illustrative plates from How I Killed the Tiger (1902)
Zack sez, "Just did an interview with Sylvia Toth, who uses public-domain images in a unique way -- she creates sugar cookies with images from 1940s comics printed onto icing sheets with food coloring. Her best-sellers are a line of cookies featuring images from Fletcher Hanks' Stardust the Super-Wizard, and they've earned a thumbs-up from Paul Karasik, who collected Hanks' stories in I SHALL DESTROY ALL THE CIVILIZED PLANETS! Though people are often reluctant to actually eat the lovely cookies, I've tried them, and they're worth ruining the art over."
Classic comics inspire Golden Age Bakery in Chapel Hill
Singularity & Co is a new Brooklyn based science fiction bookstore with a mission: based on the Kickstarter project that provided its seed funding, the store is devoted to rescuing one customer-chosen, out-of-print sf book from obscurity by buying the rights to publish it online as a free ebook.
We love books. A lot. And we love sci-fi books, new and old. But mostly old. And there are a lot of great old sci-fi books out there that are out of print, out of circulation, and, worst of all, not available in any sort of digital format. Given the subject material, that’s just not right. So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to open a bookshop, both online and in real life, in Brooklyn, NY where we live and work. It doesn’t have to make much money. It doesn’t have to make any money at all, since our day jobs cover our rent.
But what it will do is let us choose one great out of print work or classic and/or obscure sci-fi a month, track down the people that hold the copyright (if they are still around), and publish that work online and on all the major digital book platforms for little or no cost. Every month on this website visitors will get to vote on the next great but not so well remembered work we will rescue from the obscurity of the past.
Singularity & Co
The Internet Archive has partnered with BitTorrent to publish over 1,000,000 of its books, music and movies as legal torrents. It's a huge whack of legal content in the torrentverse, and a major blow to the schemes of entertainment execs to have the whole BitTorrent protocol filtered away to nothing on sight. From the Internet Archive's blog:
Over 1,000,000 Torrents of Downloadable Books, Music, and Movies
BitTorrent is the now fastest way to download items from the Archive, because the BitTorrent client downloads simultaneously from two different Archive servers located in two different datacenters, and from other Archive users who have downloaded these Torrents already. The distributed nature of BitTorrent swarms and their ability to retrieve Torrents from local peers may be of particular value to patrons with slower access to the Archive, for example those outside the United States or inside institutions with slow connections.