Boing Boing 

Happy Public Domain Day: here are the works that copyright extension stole from you in 2015


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."

Read the rest

San Francisco: visit the public domain arcade, play games, learn about threats


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!

(Thanks, Elliot!)

Internet Archive uploads more than 14 million public domain images to Flickr


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.

Read the rest

Global Game Jam asks developers to use the public domain, in Aaron Swartz's honor

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 (Thanks, Susan!)

Copyright week: using and losing the public domain


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 19941. 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:

Read the rest

Public Domain Day 2014: bad times ahead, urgent action needed

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.

Read the rest

British Library uploads one million public domain images to the net for remix and reuse


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!

Read the rest

Glitch in the Afterlife

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

Book-scanning brings the 19th century to life

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 (Thanks, Harry!)

Scary NYC neighborhood, 1888


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) (via Kadrey)

HOWTO kill a tiger (1902)


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)

Edible Fletcher Hanks comics


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 (Thanks, Zack!)

New SF bookstore devoted to rescuing out-of-print sf books and making them into free ebooks

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 (via Tor.com)

Internet Archive adds 1,000,000 legal files to the world's store of BitTorrents

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:

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.

Over 1,000,000 Torrents of Downloadable Books, Music, and Movies

HG Wells's "Tono-Bungay," a memoir about quack remedies, as a free audiobook

A reader writes, "Librivox [ed: a trove of free, volunteer-read audio adaptations of public domain books] has released the audio version of Tono-Bungay the classic semi-autobiographical novel by H. G. Wells." From Wikipedia:

Tono-Bungay is a realist semi-autobiographical novel. It is narrated by George Ponderevo, a science student who is drafted in to help with the promotion of Tono-Bungay, a harmful stimulant disguised as a miraculous cure-all, the creation of his uncle Edward. The quack remedy Tono-Bungay seems to have been based upon the patent medicines Carter's Little Liver Pills and Dr. Williams' Pink Pills for Pale People.... As the tonic prospers, George experiences a swift rise in social status, elevating him to riches and opportunities that he had never imagined, nor indeed desired. The novel displays Edward's social climbing satirically, and also George's discomfort at rising in social class. The hero's personal life is narrated with unusual frankness for an Edwardian novel.... The empire eventually overextends itself and then collapses. George tries unsuccessfully to save his uncle and eventually ends up designing battleships for the highest bidder. (Summary from Wikipedia)

Tono-Bungay

(Image: Frisbee)

Acrobatic show posters from the turn of the 20th century


On How to Be a Retronaut, a well-selected slice through the Library of Congress's 2,114 performing arts posters collection, with an emphasis on acrobatics.

Posters for Acrobatics shows, 1892-1903

Beautiful industrial and architectural letterheads from a bygone era


Bibliodyssey has curated a beautiful collection of letterheads from 19th century and early 20th century architectural and industrial firms, doing a lot of cleanup and posting the hi-rez images to Flickr. The originals are from Columbia University's Biggert Collection.

The images in this post all come from Columbia University's very large assortment of commercial stationery (featuring architectural illustrations): the Biggert Collection.

The vast majority of the images below have been cropped, cleaned and variously doctored for display purposes, with an intent towards highlighting the range of letterform/font and design layouts. The underlying documents are invoices (most), letters, postcards, shipping records and related business and advertising letterhead ephemera from the mid-1800s to the 1930s.

Architectural Stationery Vignettes (via Kottke)

Fan video for Jonathan Coulton's "Down Today" made from public domain ballooning footage

Craig sez, "This is a music video I've edited for the song 'Down Today' by Jonathan Coulton (from his 2011 album, 'Artificial Heart,' produced by John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants) using footage from public domain films mostly found on Archive.org. 'No! No! A Thousand Times No!! - a 1935 Fleischer Studio animated short film, starring Betty Boop, 'Voyage à Travers l'Impossible' (The Impossible Voyage) (1904) directed by Georges Méliès, 'Le Voyage Dans la Lune' (A Trip to the Moon) (1902) directed by Georges Méliès, 'Le Dirigeable Fantastique ou le Cauchemar d'un Inventeur' (The Inventor Crazybrains and his Wonderful Airship) (1905) directed by Georges Méliès, L.T.A. History of Balloons (1944). More music videos I've edited for songs from Jonathan Coulton's excellent 'Artificial Heart' album. Stream or buy the album 'Artificial Heart' at Jonathan Coulton's website.

Jonathan Coulton - "Down Today" unofficial music video (Thanks, Craig!)

Trove of free, public domain HD video

Rick Prelinger sez,

I'm delighted to let everyone know about our newest Internet Archive collection which, for want of a cooler title, we're calling 35mm Stock Footage. Digitized from 35mm original negatives and release prints dating back to the first decade of the 20th century, these unedited sequences were shot for feature films but never used. Studio librarians saved them for use in future productions, and now you can download and use them yourself in a variety of formats, including 720p HD, absolutely free. As far as I know, this is Internet Archive's first all-HD collection.

In the first wave of materials: a trip across the George Washington Bridge in the late 1940s, a snake slithering on rainy ground, aerials of Hollywood studios, 1940s Southern California hotrodders, stunt flying, miniature airplanes crashing, the Staten Island Ferry in the 1930s, and much more. Much of the footage is "process plates" -- film shot for the rear-projection screens you see out of car, taxi and train windows in old movies.

We've also digitized HD versions of newsreels and short subjects from the 1920s and 1930s, and there are even French "primitive-era" silent films dating back as far as 1905. Please get lost in this collection, make your own movies with it (please upload them to Internet Archive if you can!), and keep watching for more.

Welcome to 35mm Stock Footage

Paul Brownstein Productions claims YouTube ownership of US government movie, could have Public Resource's YouTube account killed

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez,

Cory Doctorow wrote in the Guardian about our copyright problems on YouTube with FedFlix, a channel of U.S. government videos. On January 4, we protested one of the ContentID matches on a 1974 film called Pathfinder, which was paid for and produced by the Fish and Wildlife Service. A Hollywood shop called Paul Brownstein Productions had been monetizing the video by forcing ads in front of each viewing. After we protested, Paul Browstein Productions got nasty and forced removal of the video and gave us a so called Copyright Strike on our account. If we get 3 strikes, our account is cancelled.

It seems wrong for some individual to monetize and then remove a video produced by the U.S. government. Even worse, it seems really wrong for that individual to try me and convict me in abstentia with no due process or indeed without even an explanation. If SOPA passes, this is exactly the kind of arbitrary enforcement we're going to see. I think this is wrong and I hate seeing these poachers claiming the public domain, so I uploaded the video twice more.

Under the ContentID system, Paul Brownstein now has the option of declaring our two new uploads to be violations and the FedFlix account will be terminated on YouTube. Judge Paul holds his fate on our hands. We've had 10 million views on that account and another 10 million on the Internet Archive. Is it right for some individual to make that choice for all of us? Stop SOPA or we're going to live in that kind of world.

Judge Paul Called Me a Thief: I Was Tried In Abstentia, Convicted and Sent to Copyright School (Thanks, Carl!)

Color photos of Depression-era American small towns


The Denver Post collects some of the Library of Congress's best color photos from the early 1940s, chronicling Depression life in small towns.

These images, by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, are some of the only color photographs taken of the effects of the Depression on America’s rural and small town populations. The photographs are the property of the Library of Congress and were included in a 2006 exhibit Bound for Glory: America in Color.

Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943 (Thanks, Tony!)

Canadians: tell Parliament to preserve Canada's public domain!

Michael Geist sez,

Canada celebrated New Year's Day this year by welcoming the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Carl Jung into the public domain just as European countries were celebrating the arrival of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, 20 years after both entered the Canadian public domain. Canada's term of copyright meets the international standard of life of the author plus 50 years, which has now become a competitive advantage when compared to the United States, Australia, and Europe, which have copyright terms that extend an additional 20 years (without any evidence of additional public benefits).

In an interesting coincidence, the Canadian government filed notice of a public consultation on December 31, 2011 on the possible Canadian entry into the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations, trade talks that could result in an extension in the term of copyright that would mean nothing new would enter the Canadian public domain until 2032 or beyond. The TPP covers a wide range of issues, but its intellectual property rules as contemplated by leaked U.S. drafts would extend the term of copyright, require even stricter digital lock rules, restrict trade in parallel imports, and increase various infringement penalties.

Now is the opportunity to help preserve the public domain in Canada by speaking out against TPP copyright provisions that would extend the term of copyright or impose even stricter digital lock rules. The consultation is open until February 14, 2012. All it takes a single email with your name, address, and comments on the issue. The email can be sent to consultations@international.gc.ca. Alternatively, submissions can be sent by fax (613-944-3489) or mail (Trade Negotiations Consultations (TPP), Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Trade Policy and Negotiations Division II (TPW), Lester B. Pearson Building, 125 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G2).

Help Preserve the Canadian Public Domain: Speak Out on the Trans Pacific Partnership Negotiations

Public domain WPA posters from the Library of Congress

Mynonymouse sez, "The Library of Congress just posted a Flickr set of lovely WPA posters. There are awesome ones about keeping your teeth clean, science and one that seems to be about drunk driving but also might warn of a previously unknown deadly reactive incompatibility between gas and whiskey."

These are awesome designs, but it's a disappointment that the LoC posted them at such crummy low-resolutions. The nation's treasures deserve better than that.

Update: See the comments for lots of places where you can get higher rez ones.

WPA Posters

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."

Cambridge digital library posts scan of Newton's Trinity College notebook, claims copyright over scans

Robbo sez, "The Cambridge Digital Library has posted Sir Issac Newton's notebook which he used as an undergraduate at Trinity College in the 1660's. It can be viewed, page by page, in its entirety and is a fantastic glimpse into the scribbling and doodling thought processes of the man."

Sadly, these images are licensed under CC noncommercial, which means that Cambridge is asserting a copyright over these ancient manuscripts. UK law does make some provision for asserting a copyright in photos of public domain works, though to do so certainly runs contrary to the ethic of scholarship that the Cambridge name evokes.

However, readers in the USA should know that these images are not in copyright there, and they could be downloaded and reused in any way, in keeping with the principle of a robust public domain.

Given that I live in the UK, I have not included any images from the manuscript here.

The argument for asserting copyrights in public domain works is that the public interest is best served by taking public money to acquire and maintain national cultural treasures, then selling access to them, and using the money to reduce the amount that the public pays for future operations.

I understand and reject that argument. A real public domain in national treasures allows for a much broader range of uses and reproductions than the limited, noncommercial, no-derivatives license permits, and these uses would benefit our public life.

I applaud the Cambridge Library's initiative in making its works available to the public, and in adopting CC licenses, but I wish they would adopt a programme of making Britain's ancient treasures truly free.

Update: I've been giving this more thought; here's something I just posted to the comments:

The problem with this framing is that it assumes that increasing commercial exploitation of the public domain by cultural institutions will fill the void left by contracting public spending, but the reverse is true.

When public institutions reduce their public service in order to supplement their income, they are (obviously) delivering less public value than they would if they made the public's treasures free.

The public, then, sees less reason to fund these institutions (because there are fewer ways in which the public receives benefit from them), which means they are more vulnerable to future cuts.

So each round of budget cuts results in a new impetus to privatise the collection. Each privatisation of the collection results in more vulnerability to budget cuts.

And this logic isn't limited to times of austerity. The drive to fence off digitised versions of the public domain dates to the 90s and the neoliberal period when Labour (in the UK) encouraged cultural institutions to claim copyright in the verbatim copies of their public domain works.

This is "now more than ever" thinking: in good times, we must shut down the public domain and charge for its use. In bad times, we must do the same.

Meanwhile, the evidence runs contrary to this agenda. In the US, public data is public -- no copyright can be asserted in government documents, and in the US, both the public and business enjoy unfettered access to same. The result is that all the sectors that depend on public data (such as maps) in the US dwarf their UK equivalents, and return more in tax revenue (and jobs, and public benefit) than their UK counterparts, which can only kick off if they can afford to pay to access and use the data.

If public data is to have a future, it has to make the case to the public that it deserves to be funded. It cannot do that by reducing the utility of public data to the public.

Trinity College Notebook by Isaac Newton (Thanks, Robbo!)

Vintage Hallowe'en postcards


Here's a beautiful gallery of vintage Hallowe'en postcards from the New York Public Library Picture Collection on Flickr.

Haunted Postcards (via How to Be a Retronaut)

Ask the Smithsonian to withdraw copyright claim on public domain images

Creative works published before 1923 are legally part of the public domain. Beyond that, the federal government can't copyright anything, except in very specific circumstances.

So why is the Smithsonian Institution claiming copyright on a collection of 19th-century seed catalog images?

What Would Luther Burbank Do? is a project aimed at convincing the Smithsonian to change its policy and make American cultural history available to Americans, a move that would put its policies in line with those of the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Government Printing Office.

Public.Resource.Org is going to file a complaint about this and is collecting statements from any member of the public who'd like join. If you have some thoughts about why you think the Smithsonian should let these images be part of the public domain—or if you'd just like to have your name added to the formal complaint—please send a postcard to:

What Would Luther Burbank Do?
Public.Resource.Org
1005 Gravenstein Highway North
Sebastopol, CA 95472

Internet Archive adds its three millionth scanned book

The Internet Archive's Book Scanning project just added its three millionth text. Unlike Google Book Search, the Archive only scans public domain works, and, more significantly, places no restrictions on the scans' usage. Another significant difference is the Archive's privacy policy, which, unlike Google, promises not to release your personal information without a court order.
More than 100 people digitize books in Internet Archive scanning centers in 27 libraries in 6 countries. At 10 cents a page, we are bringing over 1,000 new books online every day.

Archive.org is visited by more than 1 million different users every day. Books are downloaded or read on archive.org about 10 million times each month, and approximately 2,000 books for the blind and dyslexic (print disabled) are downloaded every day.

Other projects use the texts archive in bulk. Researches at the University of Massachusetts have used millions of archive.org books to do digital scholarship. OpenLibrary.org integrates these books with many thousands of recent books for the print disabled and library borrowers. All of the public domain books are full text searchable, indexed by multuiple search engines, and downloadable individually or in bulk.

Please help us build the library of free books by scanning and uploading, by donating physical books to the Internet Archive, or by sponsoring the digitization of great collections!

3 million texts for free