Public Domain Starves While Copyright Office Struggles To Modernize

from the behind-the-times dept

One of the biggest problems with copyright law is orphaned works—material for which the copyright status is impossible to determine, or for which the current copyright holder is unknown. Closely tied to the issue of orphaned works is the sheer prohibitive difficulty of looking up copyright registration information: the Copyright Office has records going all the way back to 1870, but only those from 1978 onwards are available online. That leaves over a century of records that exist only in physical catalogues containing upwards of 70-million entries. Millions of these works have undoubtedly fallen into the public domain thanks to shorter, stricter copyright laws at the time of their creation—and yet they continue to have de facto copyright protection because very few people have the means to access and search the records.

Last year, the Copyright Office said that they would make it a priority to digitize these records. Naturally this is a difficult and expensive task: the scanning phase is well underway, but the office has yet to tackle the much bigger challenges of text-recognition and metadata tagging that are necessary to make the records searchable. As a stopgap solution, they are now considering the possibility of putting the raw scans online:

Of the 25,723 drawers in the Copyright Card Catalog, more than 12,000 have already been scanned resulting in more than 17 million card images safely tucked away in Library storage. The long term plan is to capture index terms from the card images using OCR and keyboarding and to build indexes for online searching. But this will require significant time and money to achieve. Must we wait to share these images with you? Maybe not.

As an interim step, the Copyright Office is considering making the images of the cards in the catalog available online through a hierarchical structure that would mimic the way a researcher would approach and use the physical card catalog. We’re calling this a virtual card catalog. While it would not provide the full record level indexing that remains a principal goal, it would make information available as we’re doing the scanning and as searchable as the actual cards.

Anything that makes these records more accessible is a good thing, but this situation really just serves to underline the massive imbalance in copyright law. The public domain—supposedly a key part of the bargain of copyright—is being curtailed by the failure of the system to keep up with technology and culture. In today's world, everyone is a content creator, and by extension, everyone is a remixer. For new generations, public records that don't exist online might as well not exist at all. Expecting people to wait for these records to be digitized (or fly to D.C. and request access to the physical catalogue) is laughable—a total denial of reality. Is it any surprise that people don't respect copyright law under such circumstances?



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 3:21pm

    MPAA: Public domain...? What is this wizardry?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Alex Austin (profile), Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 3:24pm

    Scanning by the public for the public

    This looks like a job for... ReCAPTCHA!!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Algot Runeman, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 3:36pm

    Perfect Crowdsource Opportunity

    This sounds like a great opportunity to use the eyes and fingers-on-keyboards of the public to read and transcribe the card data.

    The process has worked for astronomy data, why not copyright data?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Watchit (profile), Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 3:40pm

    They could try crowd sourcing it, by releasing the scans online to be decipher and such.

     

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  5.  
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    Watchit (profile), Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 3:41pm

    Re:

    deciphered*

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 3:50pm

    Re: Shill-o-tron

    What? And just GIVE the information away? I don't think so.
    The freetards would just copy everything, then it wouldn't matter if it was public domain or not, it would definitely be out there.

    /shill

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 3:52pm

    Re: Perfect Crowdsource Opportunity

    The PUBLIC? Are you crazy, think of how much knowledge they would have/ Also think of the employees who are doing this. they will loose their jobs.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 3:53pm

    "One of the biggest problems with copyright law is orphaned works"

    This is an intended result, IP laws are anti-competitive in nature and the public domain would compete with proprietary works. Can't have that, this interferes with the profit margins of big corporations that care little about the public interest.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    The Amazing Sammy (profile), Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 3:58pm

    Re: Scanning by the public for the public

    It does, as a matter of fact. Or maybe it's the kind of thing that a Seti@Home like project could do. I'm sure you could find people willing to donate their bandwidth and processor time to this kind of thing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 3:58pm

    Better idea...

    Why don't they coop the personnel and equipment from the NSA to give them a hand. I mean rumor has it that they've got themselves one of those new dangled supercomputer thingys that might come in handy processing all those records. And since they seem to have a bunch of people on their payroll with nothing better to do than listen to innocent people's phone conversations and read their personal emails scanning records would give them something to occupy their time. Sounds like the perfect solution to me.

     

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  11.  
    icon
    The Amazing Sammy (profile), Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 4:00pm

    Re: Re: Perfect Crowdsource Opportunity

    The old government argument of efficiency being inherently evil because people spend less money, which is irreplaceable. Well, how about the old idea that less money for the government to waste not getting with the times is a good thing? Should mean lower taxes and more services. I fail to see the downside.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 4:01pm

    Re: Re: Perfect Crowdsource Opportunity

    Loose: eg Loose doors are easy to open.
    Past-tense: Loosed, as in "I loosed by bile on mis-spelling shills."

    Lose: eg You might lose your day job.
    Past-tense: Lost, as in "I just lost the game."

    (please Please PLEASE learn to spell.)

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 4:10pm

    Re: Re: Re: Perfect Crowdsource Opportunity

    Loose is an adjective in your example not a verb. It doesn't have a tense. I think the verb you are looking for is loosen for which the past tense is loosened even though you were correct in the fact that the word he needed was lose. Engrish! Both of you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    johnny canada, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 4:11pm

    Re: Perfect Crowdsource Opportunity

    Think of the Corn Farmers.

    If 'people' typed or entered data they will not be watching movies and the children of the corn farmers will starve.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Digitari, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 4:28pm

    RE

    is it just me or do all the shills seem to be using MS IE, are they on company computers or something, Chrome and Opera have built in spell check, ( I love it, makes me look smart an all) Dunno about safari,is there a linux version of safari?











    (that was a Joke son)

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Cowardly Anonymous, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 4:32pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Perfect Crowdsource Opportunity

    Half and half. His first part should have been more along the lines of "loose the dogs," where loose takes on the role of a synonym for release. The past tense part of his example was correct.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 4:41pm

    Simple solution to this and any other copyfraud issue: any part filing suit over copyright imfringement must show in court that they hold the copyright to the work in question.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 4:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Perfect Crowdsource Opportunity

    Oh I know. That is why I said "in your example". And no one (at least here) ever uses loose as a verb. They always use loosen instead.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 4:44pm

    Do you think the full catalog would fall under their copyright?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 4:50pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Perfect Crowdsource Opportunity

    Or in your example we would say "turn loose" or "release".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 6:29pm

    This highlights another problem with giant media empires and endless copyright extensions. Their holdings become so vast that they can no longer keep track of it all. Most of it will never see the light of day because most of it will not earn back what it costs to make it available.

    It goes beyond orphan works to works nobody even knows existed because everyone that worked on it is dead. How many times have heard stories of someone digging through a movie studio's archives or record label's vaults and discovering amazing treasures? Even the copyright office is unable to keep track of who owns what.

    Our culture has been stolen from us and it's sad and pathetic.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 6:50pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Perfect Crowdsource Opportunity

    one handed typing on the phone, see qwertial aphasia

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    icon
    Atkray (profile), Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 7:01pm

    Possible solution

    In order to file a DMCA takedown notice, you must index 10 of these documents.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 8:15pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Perfect Crowdsource Opportunity

    I had the same thing happen on my first comment. "Fangled" somehow came out as "dangled" but in my case I think it was the damned predictive text.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 8:18pm

    Re: Possible solution

    No we don't want them anywhere near them. They would try to PhotoShop their name on them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    icon
    Watchit (profile), Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 8:22pm

    Re: Re: Shill-o-tron

    haha, even if they argued that, it wouldn't make much sense, since the only information released would be the copyright information, not the actual work.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 10:02pm

    Re:

    It's a product of the US Government (actually several million products) and thus public domain.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 10:04pm

    Re: Re: Possible solution

    Anyone caught falsifying indexed documents loses the copyright the associated takedown was for.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    icon
    Niall (profile), Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 4:28am

    Re: Re: Re: Shill-o-tron

    Since when did they ever argue the sensible or logical position?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    icon
    Niall (profile), Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 4:29am

    Re: Re: Re: Possible solution

    But if they never had it in the first place...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 5:12am

    Re: Re: Re: Possible solution

    My point was letting IP maximalists handle scanning other's copyright records would be trusting those who have time and again proved themselves untrustworthy. Bad idea.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 8:07am

    "One of the biggest problems with copyright law is orphaned works—material for which the copyright status is impossible to determine"

    Not really hard to determine at least the likelihood that a work is covered. For a book, or a movie, check a copy to see if it has a copyright notice in it. If it does, and it's been less than 75 years, the work is likely still copyright - even if there are no specific right holders at this point.

    For music, it's a little harder. An original copy disk might lead to a publishing company or similar. If the disk in your hand has copyright on it (at the point is was printed) then it is likely still under copyright if it is less than 75 years.

    Yes, there are some works that have been ceded to the public domain early, but if you follow the above guidelines, you will err on the side of being right most of the time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 9:14am

    "In today's world, everyone is a content creator, and by extension, everyone is a remixer. For new generations, public records that don't exist online might as well not exist at all. Expecting people to wait for these records to be digitized (or fly to D.C. and request access to the physical catalogue) is laughable—a total denial of reality. Is it any surprise that people don't respect copyright law under such circumstances?"

    Everyone is not a remixer. You might be infringing upon the works of others but not "everyone". A lot of people don't even take advantage of fair use - they simply don't use the works of others.

    If new generations can't cope with things not being online, they are sheltering themselves from reality and need to get out more often. This comment is entirely too broad and casts gen-xers and the entitlement generation as computer hermits - which is an inaccurate generalization.

    "Is it any surprise that people don't respect copyright law under such circumstances?" Yes, it is. Just because you don't like a law doesn't afford you the permission to ignore it. There are a lot of laws that I think are stupid but if I choose to ignore those laws I face the potential for reprecussions (fines or incarceration). Your comment sounds like an excuse for breaking an inconvenient law - but there are many inconvenient laws.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    icon
    Leigh Beadon (profile), Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 11:25am

    Re:

    Not really hard to determine at least the likelihood that a work is covered. For a book, or a movie, check a copy to see if it has a copyright notice in it. If it does, and it's been less than 75 years, the work is likely still copyright - even if there are no specific right holders at this point.

    Um, no. If it was registered between 1923 and 1963, then copyright only lasts 28 years, and 28 more if renewed. And according to most data, only 7% of books were renewed. In fact in all media, under half (and usually under 25%) of works were renewed - with film being the only area where the majority of works retained copyright. Yet nobody will touch the rest of that stuff because confirming its status is too difficult.

    So it's not "some" works - it's the vast majority of works. And remember, "likelihood" is not enough. Accidentally violating someone's copyright could put you on the hook for huge damages and a lengthy legal battle. So nobody is going just "err on the side of being right" - they need actual confirmation.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 11:45am

    Re:

    Ok well may be "EVERYONE" is not a remixer in the absolute sense of the word. However almost everyone is even if they do not realize they are doing it. People are a product of what they experience and naturally incorporate what they experience into what they express. As the public shares their thoughts and ideas via things such as social media more and more of them are becoming creators of content. That content naturally contains parts of their experiences that they drew from other works mixed together in their own way. Sure you may be able to find SOMEONE SOMEWHERE who lives in a hole and has never has experienced anything anyone else has created and therefore is not a remixer so the everyone absolute test fails but that's not the point.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    icon
    DanZee (profile), Apr 4th, 2012 @ 12:09pm

    Re: Copyright term

    Leigh Beadon gave a good answer for the printed part of your comment. As for the music side, no musical recording goes into the public domain until Feb. 15, 2067! The song-writing copyright is in the public domain before 1923, which means you can sing and record the song without paying a royalty, but the actual sound recording is locked up for another 55 years!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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