Now, it's no surprise that plenty of people don't quite "get" the public domain or why it's important (though, if you are interested, you should read James Boyle's excellent book
on the subject, which you can also order -- signed -- as a part of the Techdirt Book Club
). And we've seen more than a few instances where people falsely claim copyright
on public domain material. However, none of that really explains Barnes & Noble's bizarre and contradictory response to someone's question about why public domain ebooks were locked up with DRM
(thanks Mark for sending this in). B&N is apparently offering a promotion for "free" ebooks, but it turns out that all of them are in the public domain (meaning most are already available for free online). But, oddly, these books were locked up by DRM, and someone decided to ask why. The original question goes a bit too far in claiming that the DRM "infringes" on the "right to print the works" (there's no such right, and B&N has no requirement to allow you to print), but that's no excuse for the way B&N "explains" why the public domain books its giving away "free" are protected by DRM:
We selected public domain titles as our free eBooks because these books are traditionally among our customers' favorite works of literature.... Also, for copyright protection purposes, these files are encrypted and cannot be converted or printed.
So, they recognize that the works are in the public domain... but they encrypt them with DRM to protect the copyright that doesn't exist
on those works. That's convincing.