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.

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.

Read the rest

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) Read the rest

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) Read the rest

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!) Read the rest

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) Read the rest

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 Read the rest

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) Read the rest

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 Read the rest

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) Read the rest

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!) Read the rest

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,

Read the rest

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?

Read the rest

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!) Read the rest

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