UK Libraries Protest Ridiculous Copyright Laws By Showing Empty Cases Of Works They Can't Display

from the take-a-stand dept

A bunch of libraries in the UK are protesting ridiculous copyright terms by displaying empty cases where they say letters written during World War I should go, but won’t, because figuring out how to properly license the work under copyright law is impossible.

If you can’t read the sign, it says:

There would have been a letter from a First World War soldier in this display

But because of current copyright laws, we cannot display the original in this instance.

Join the campaign to free our history. Many unpublished works remain in copyright until 2039, whatever their age.

Tweet a picture of this display with the hashtag #Catch2039

For information on the campaign visit www.cilip.org.uk/freeourhistory

The #Catch2039 hashtag is full of similar images. Here are a few:

As the Director General of the Imperial War Museum, Diane Lees, notes:

?During the First World War Centenary commemorations, many organisations want to make original unpublished works such as diaries and letters accessible to the public. Because they are still under copyright protection, they cannot do so without seeking permission from the rights holder. This is even more problematic if the rights holders are untraceable.

We are asking everyone who cares about our history, everyone who cares about telling our collective story without restrictions, to join the campaign.?

Because, obviously, without the protections that copyrights grant, why would those soldiers ever have written letters in the first place, right?

It’s stories like this that highlight why we find copyright law so problematic. Copyright law creates all sorts of these nonsensical restrictions that no one in their right mind thinks is appropriate. But because the law looks to protect such works for so long, you end up with results like this. A system that didn’t automatically protect every work created, but rather required registration and formalities would go a long way towards solving basic problems like this — and it’s absolutely ridiculous that many consider that option to be a non-starter in any discussion of copyright reform.

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Comments on “UK Libraries Protest Ridiculous Copyright Laws By Showing Empty Cases Of Works They Can't Display”

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52 Comments
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

And the cartels will try and spin this so only those in their select group will qualify for copyright, because creative works have to have their rights protected, even after that creators death, so that they will keep making more works.

Who cares if people can not learn anything about a major historical event, unless we lock everything up for 3 lifetimes corporations will have no motivation to acquire more things to lock away.

Copyright should exist, but nothing like what it is today.
A simple solution would be to require them to be registered and require a renewal be filed. Miss the renewal and in 6 months it is in the public domain. There should be limits so that things aren’t locked away for several lifetimes. It should be required that the works be made available, so that they don’t vanish into a vault.

What purpose is copyright serving when the content is no longer available to the public at any price? If it isn’t worth enough to keep it in the marketplace, what harm is there of moving it to the public domain?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Originally, copyright only lasted a maximum of 7 years. This was in an era where to make copies required a human scribe or a printing press and to distribute copies required you to ship them on horse drawn carriage or by ship where in either case, just the shipping process could take months. And 7 years was considered ample time to make money off your work.
If we were to update this period for the times considering the far more rapid rate of making copies, the far more rapid rate of distributing copies, and far more rapid rate at which people consume copyright-able content these days, copyright terms should last maybe 1 year at most.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Re first sentence, what country is being referenced? Can’t be the US. Even the first copyright law enacted in 1790 provided a14year term, renewable for a second 14 year term.

As for the article, it would help immeasurably to have a link to the statutory provision of UK law that supposedly creates the issue being complained about.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Shouldn’t the copyright term depend on the type of creative work? Although 1930s era films like ‘The Wizard of Oz’ might still have some commercial value for practically infinity, any an all computer code (i.e., software, firmware) will likely lose all commercial value in a much shorter time frame.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

The purpose of IP law shouldn’t be to withhold works until they have no (commercial or public or cultural) value. Yes, these works still have cultural value and that’s the point, to encourage the creation of works so that they can enter the public domain in a reasonable period of time so that the public can freely enjoy their value without restrictions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

If your point is correctly understood, once something has no commercial value it should enter the public domain so that its non-commercial value can now be freely enjoyed.

You may wish to consider that even during the period that copyright pertains there is nothing that prevents persons from enjoying whatever it is that a work has to offer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

You may wish to consider that even during the period that copyright pertains there is nothing that prevents persons from enjoying whatever it is that a work has to offer.

Except for works under copyright that are no longer being published, when it can be very difficult to impossible to find a copy. Many of the first films ever produced no longer exist because the studios failed to preserve a copy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

“If your point is correctly understood, once something has no commercial value it should enter the public domain so that its non-commercial value can now be freely enjoyed.”

That was not my point but I agree with this point as well.

“You may wish to consider that even during the period that copyright pertains there is nothing that prevents persons from enjoying whatever it is that a work has to offer.”

The point of IP should not be to ensure that works are protected just for the sake of protecting them. This is a very bought and paid for view of copy protection laws that corporations have bought. It’s not a view intended to serve the public interest.

If the work has no commercial value then there is no purpose of protecting it because that work is no longer providing anyone with the monetary incentive that was supposed to encourage them to create the work in the first place. and if the work is no longer being sold (why would it be if it has no commercial value) that limits the number of legal copies available and so now those without legal copies are prevented from enjoying it.

and ‘commercial value’ is sorta an ambiguous term. Many works have ‘value’. Places may wish to commercialize that value. For instance a restaurant can ‘commercialize’ the value of a song or movie by playing it. This includes public domain works. The purpose of IP law should not be to withhold works until they have no more ‘commercial’ value. It should be to expand the public domain so that everyone can freely utilize the value of those works (be it commercially, personally, or otherwise).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

Remember, copy protection laws should not be about your twisted version of ‘fairness’. If you wish to talk fairness then what’s not fair is the fact that a small hand full of people have effectively subverted the democratic process by buying and paying for politicians to keep expanding and (retroactively) extending copy protection laws to the level of insanity. That’s not fair. This is supposed to be a democracy. Copy protection laws should be about the public interest and they should be what we as a society democratically determine they should be. That’s what’s fair.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“Shouldn’t the copyright term depend on the type of creative work? “

Copy protection terms (or even whether or not copy protection laws should exist in the first place) should depend on what the public democratically decides it should be. The problem is that they currently depend on the extent that various corporations and industry interests have bought and paid for politicians. That needs to change.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Copyright in the US was originally 17 years, with one 17 year renewal. Kind of strange how it morphed into what it is today, since the sole, original purpose of copyright was to force works into the public domain. (How authors get paid is irrelevant to copyright.)

Unpublished works go into the public domain after a certain period of time, which is why we are seeing new albums of unreleased Beatles studio recordings.

Copyright is supposed to protect the work for a limited period of time. I think the longest period of time that could possibly be considered limited would be a term not to exceed 70 years from the date a work was written (Sorry, all you heirs and estates.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Automatic protection is excessive as-is, but has some value

I agree that the automatic protection for every protectable work creates protections where none are appropriate, but there is some value in a regime where some forms of work receive automatic protection. For example, free software relies on the interaction of copyright with permissive license grants to remain free. Most Free software developers lack the time and expertise to formally copyright every revision they produce, but developers who choose a copyleft license (e.g. GNU GPL) over an all-permissive license (e.g. MIT) show by their choice they want some protection for the work, even if they do not seek financial reward from their users. A regime which provides automatic protection to works created for the purpose of publication would provide most or all of the protection needed for Free software (and other forms of Free content, such as the CC-* licensed works) without creating some of the crazy situations shown here. Reducing the length of copyright would also help tremendously, since most Free works will be obsolete and forgotten long before even a reduced copyright runs out.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Automatic protection is excessive as-is, but has some value

For example, free software relies on the interaction of copyright with permissive license grants to remain free.

Either you are being disingenuous, or you haven’t thought that through.

What you are saying is that:
1) Free software needs to use those licenses to remain free because copyright law is utterly insane.
2) Because free software is using licenses, we should keep copyright law utterly insane.

Just because a generally good thing has figured out a way to use a broken system against itself doesn’t mean we should keep the broken system.

Anonymous Coward says:

The soldier who didn't write

Soldier #1: Why aren’t you writing letters to send home to your wife and family?

Soldier #2: I don’t want someone else to potentially profit off of my hard work writing that letter by putting it on display in a Library or something!

Soldier #1: But how will you keep in touch with your family then?

Soldier #2: I won’t, it’s a small price to pay for making sure that greedy people who want everything for free won’t profit off of my writing without paying me.

Soldier #1: But who would pay for a copy of your letters, besides your family?

Soldier #2: Well… fans of me… if I ever hypothetically become famous… I wouldn’t want to lose some of my hypothetical wealth to libraries just putting my letters on display for free! Scarcity is a good thing for increasing my potential hypothetical wealth!

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m for copyright but it should be reasonable. If you create something you should be able to profit off it. Let’s say you write a book, make a movie or something in that area it should be you who gets the money from selling your work. But your childrens childrens children should definitly not be able to say they own the copyright.
Imho, copyright should end with the death of the person who got the copyright. And if it is in an area that would help humanity as a whole (i.e. pharma) then 5 and max 10 years. It just can’t be that on one side we see ourselves as a positiv society but on the other side we let people die because they can’t pay for medicine that is dirt cheap to produce but they aren’t allowed to produce themselves because of copyright.

Anonymous Coward says:

I suggest another vehicle as the measurement of worth of copyright. If it is not a marketable item, that no longer has value in the market place in the sense of say 10% of original sales in the first year, that it not be eligible for copyright protections. This common sense approach would eliminate this example, orphan works, and many of the entanglements now present in today’s nonsense rulings and laws.

Horspool says:

makes no sense; display isn't copying

This makes no sense. The museum wants to display a supposedly-copyrighted letter/drawing, not make copies of it. If display were the same as copying then all “contemporary” art museums and galleries would be out of business instantly. No license is needed to display any static writing or image in the USA, so if there is some kind of restriction in the UK it must be a quirk of UK law.

Although I completely agree that copyright is out of control, that terms are too long, etc-etc., whatever is bothering these museums in the UK is not applicable in the USA.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: makes no sense; display isn't copying

“The museum wants to display a supposedly-copyrighted letter/drawing, not make copies of it.”

Copyright doesn’t just cover making copies. It also covers public performance and display, among many other things.

“If display were the same as copying then all “contemporary” art museums and galleries would be out of business instantly”

It depends, I believe. If the original artwork was purchased, first sale rights apply to the work and so the museum/gallery has the right to use the work as they wish as long as they don’t violate other laws. They may also have had specific permission from the original artist. If the work wasn’t sold to them, or if they are orphaned works where express permission cannot be granted, they may have problems.

The way I understand it at least, by displaying something that was not sold to them by its creator but is still not automatically in the public domain, there are some very grey areas that could leave them liable. It may also be that they’re overstating the issue somewhat, but using extreme examples to indicate to the public how dangerous copyright laws are becoming.

“whatever is bothering these museums in the UK is not applicable in the USA.”

So? Do UK museums not get to protest their own copyright law now, or does the right to protest only come in when the US gets involved?

Dangleberry the Occasionally Confused says:

Re: makes no sense; display isn't copying

Libraries are already allowed, under the existing act, to show these documents to individuals for research, etc. What they’re not allowed to do is put them on display for ‘anyone’ to see.

That’s stupid.

So they’re campaigning to influence a consultation that’s currently being carried out by the IPO.

Open consultation:
Reducing the duration of copyright in certain unpublished works

Anonymous Coward says:

WW I is not even that important j/k. What are the chances someone who was alive during WW I and willing to sue the museum for copyright infringement? I would think getting an insurance policy for a couple $100’s would suffice to cover a lawsuit. I don’t know how this museum obtains these letters, but I assume stuff left in a deserted building after the war. Doesn’t that make these letters “trash” so the copyright claim can’t be used.

Anonymous Coward says:

Signing your name to the #catch2039 is a catch22… On the one hand “Yes! Reduce copyright” but on the other “Any chance you could have proposed something less than lifetime plus 70?”.

Seems slightly fishy. Unfortunately they’re not displaying very well what the petition aims to do so it actually makes it look like people support lifetime + 70.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Unpublished” correspondence seems to be what is involved here. For a site that is adamant about privacy, I am somewhat surprised that the privacy interests of the letter writer and the recipient do not appear to have received any consideration in the discussion.

Since no one as yet has provided any link to the specific section of UK law these libraries are relying upon to make their claim, I have to wonder if this is a significant issue or a tempest in a teapot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I am somewhat surprised that the privacy interests of the letter writer and the recipient do not appear to have received any consideration in the discussion.

Being as these are from WW 1, they are now of historical interest, and the copyright will have passed onto children, grand children and great grandchildren.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Huh???

I found this:

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/48/section/170

It gives a reference to a pending addition, which leads to this (see item (3)(2)). I hope this is right:

76Power to reduce duration of copyright in transitional cases

(1)Section 170 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (transitional provisions and savings) is amended as follows.
(2)At the beginning insert “ (1) ”.
(3)At the end insert—
“(2)The Secretary of State may by regulations amend Schedule 1 to reduce the duration of copyright in existing works which are unpublished, other than photographs or films.
(3)The regulations may provide for the copyright to expire—
(a)with the end of the term of protection of copyright laid down by Directive 2006/116/EC or at any later time;
(b)subject to that, on the commencement of the regulations or at any later time.
(4)“Existing works” has the same meaning as in Schedule 1.
(5)Regulations under subsection (2) may—
(a)make different provision for different purposes;
(b)make supplementary or transitional provision;
(c)make consequential provision, including provision amending any enactment or subordinate legislation passed or made before that subsection comes into force.
(6)The power to make regulations under subsection (2) is exercisable by statutory instrument.
(7)A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (2) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.”

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