Harvard University Library Confirms That Digitized Versions Of Public Domain Works In Its Collection Remain In The Public Domain

from the showing-how-it's-done dept

One issue that has concerned us here on Techdirt for some years is the routine lock-down of public domain works when they are digitized. This means that far from representing an opportunity to widen public access to such freely-available analog works, converting them to digital format puts them back under copyright's restrictive intellectual monopoly. Against that retrogressive background, a recent move by Harvard University Library is welcome:
Harvard Library asserts no copyright over digital reproductions of works in its collections which are in the public domain, where those digital reproductions are made openly available on Harvard Library websites. To the extent that some jurisdictions grant an additional copyright in digital reproductions of such works, Harvard Library relinquishes that copyright. When digital reproductions of public domain works are made openly available on its websites, Harvard Library does not charge for permission to use those reproductions, and it does not grant or deny permission to publish or otherwise distribute them. As a matter of good scholarly practice, Harvard Library requests that patrons using Library-provided reproductions provide appropriate citation to the source of reproductions. This policy is subject to the explanation and exclusions below.
The "explanation and exclusions" contain the odd bit of hedging:
The Vice President for the Harvard Library may make exceptions to this policy in particular cases where the Vice President, or her or his delegate, determines on balance that the aims of the Harvard Library would be better served by such an exception.
But, all-in-all, this is a good move, and Harvard University Library is to be congratulated for leading the way here. Let's hope it inspires many other institutions to do the same, and that it becomes the norm that digitized public domain works remain as part of the great commons of knowledge.

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Filed Under: libraries, public domain
Companies: harvard


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 4 Nov 2014 @ 3:38am

    It's sad that every single book isn't already available online for use in virtual libraries. We are wasting great value on the net because of copyright idiocies.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Nov 2014 @ 3:53am

    /r/titlegore

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Nov 2014 @ 6:46am

    Blame the Publishers

    Publishers may offer electronic publications available for patrons. However, in many cases, a certain number of checkouts, say 26 or less, requires the library to purchase a new copy. The reason? The publisher says a physical book will be worn out and unusable after 26 checkouts, so the same restriction is placed on electronic copies.

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

    • icon
      Sheogorath (profile), 4 Nov 2014 @ 8:34am

      Re: Blame the Publishers

      Which only proves that the publishers are fucking stupid. An ebook cannot possibly degrade, and will only be lost if something happens to the drive it's stored on.

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 4 Nov 2014 @ 9:24am

      Re: Blame the Publishers

      "The publisher says a physical book will be worn out and unusable after 26 checkouts"

      And the publishers are lying even about this. The physical books in my public library typically last a lot longer than 26 checkouts. And when you consider the fact that the library rebinds and repairs worn out books regularly, a book can last for many decades.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Nov 2014 @ 9:54am

    Potential Exception to the Policy in a Hypothetical Case

    The Vice President for the Harvard Library may make exceptions to this policy in particular cases where the Vice President, or her or his delegate, determines on balance that the aims of the Harvard Library would be better served by such an exception.

    I suspect this hedge exists in case a donor who makes a public domain work available for the Library to digitize feels the need to impose certain conditions on use. Frankly, I think any such restriction would be silly but likely fairly harmless, because (at least in the US) an accurate facsimile copy of a work in the public domain is simply not subject to copyright. It's hard to see how any terms of use the Library puts on access could survive publication of the work, since such terms of use (unlike copyright) wouldn't be binding on subsequent users.

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

  • icon
    djl47 (profile), 4 Nov 2014 @ 5:34pm

    Sauce for the goose

    If "Do it on a generic computer" isn't good enough for a patent then why is "View it on a generic computer" eligible for copyright. Nothing new has been created.

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

    • icon
      Sheogorath (profile), 6 Nov 2014 @ 5:28pm

      Re: Sauce for the goose

      Well, in Europe, it's argued that a digital version of a previously print-only work is a new expression of that idea, and thus deserves a new copyright, especially with all the work involved in correcting the OCR output. Of course, I don't see what took Harvard Library so long, given that 'sweat of the brow' isn't recognised in the US, and the change from print to digital is, as you state, too minor to allow a new copyright there.

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


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