"Books from 1923 to 1941 Now Liberated!"
October 10, 2017 7:17 PM   Subscribe

The Internet Archive today announced that, thanks to "a little known, and perhaps never used, provision of US copyright law," they're now able to offer many books published from 1923 to 1941: the Sonny Bono Memorial Collection. Among the 67 texts currently available, two are famous portrayals of American social life: the U.S.A. trilogy by John Dos Passos (including 1919, selected by Robert McCrum as #58 in The Guardian's 100 Best Novels) and Middletown: A Study in American Culture by Robert and Helen Lynd (a controversial and influential ethnographic study of Muncie, IN, referenced over 100 times in the Indiana Magazine of History).

More on Dos Passos and U.S.A.: More on the Lynds, Middletown, and Middletown Studies: Other texts of note in the Sonny Bono Memorial Collection include (but are not limited to) Rebel in Bombazine, the memoirs of Malwida von Meysenbug (friend/correspondent of Friedrich Nietzche, whose memoirs he recommended to others; alternative translation [PDF]), André Malraux's existentialist novel The Royal Way (appreciated by Thomas Cordle in Yale French Studies), and Upton Sinclair's anti-alcohol novel The Wet Parade ("not one of Upton Sinclair's artistic successes, but ... among his proudest accomplishments").
posted by Wobbuffet (17 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
I read the USA Trilogy in undergrad and it was one of my favourite course reads. This is a great gift that we have all been given. Huzzah.
posted by Fizz at 7:24 PM on October 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

This is odd re: Dos Passos. The USA Trilogy is not currently out of print, and I think it probably never has been out of print since its publication. Since 108(h)(2)(a) and (b) would seem to suggest that for 108(h) to apply, a book has to be commercially unavailable or unavailable at a "reasonable price," why do they think it applies? They even acknowledge the problem in their abstract: "as long as there is no commercial sale of the works and no reasonably priced copy is available." I'm totally in favor of making more works accessible and laud the Internet Archive for this and all of their other work, but I don't get their choice in this case.
posted by goatdog at 7:29 PM on October 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

I dunno, but I wonder if they followed a defined/automated process expected to work a large percentage of the time to meet the standard of a reasonable investigation. Any process would have an error rate (oversight, a script that currently can't handle a space in a last name, etc.), and I guess a copyright holder could just send them a note or a takedown notice.
posted by Wobbuffet at 8:19 PM on October 10, 2017

Middletown gets referenced all the time in American cultural studies. Good deal.
posted by Miko at 8:47 PM on October 10, 2017

When is the next copyright experiation date? And is there any point in trying to stop another extension?
posted by BiggerJ at 3:17 AM on October 11, 2017

"Let Me Show You Vermont" sounds like a secret porno.
posted by chavenet at 4:56 AM on October 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

"Let Me Show You Vermont" sounds like a secret porno.

"In the darkest Smutty Corners he fondled Smuggler's Notch, but he refused to Montpelier."
posted by Floydd at 5:33 AM on October 11, 2017 [8 favorites]

When is the next copyright experiation date?

Under the Copyright Term Extension Act, copyrights on published works will start to expire in 2019. Disney's copyright of Mickey Mouse expires in 2023, so another extension fight will probably happen within the next five years.
posted by cjelli at 6:50 AM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is a great gift that we have all been given. Huzzah.

This is not a gift. Copyright is the gift. This is the return of cultural goods to their rightful owners - the public.
posted by srboisvert at 6:55 AM on October 11, 2017 [31 favorites]

This is not a gift. Copyright is the gift. This is the return of cultural goods to their rightful owners - the public.

Speak the truth srboisvert.

posted by Fizz at 7:02 AM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

The section of copyright law, with emphasis added
17 U.S. Code § 108 (h)
(1) For purposes of this section, during the last 20 years of any term of copyright of a published work, a library or archives, including a nonprofit educational institution that functions as such, may reproduce, distribute, display, or perform in facsimile or digital form a copy or phonorecord of such work, or portions thereof, for purposes of preservation, scholarship, or research, if such library or archives has first determined, on the basis of a reasonable investigation, that none of the conditions set forth in subparagraphs (A), (B), and (C) of paragraph (2) apply.

(2) No reproduction, distribution, display, or performance is authorized under this subsection if—
      (A) the work is subject to normal commercial exploitation;
      (B) a copy or phonorecord of the work can be obtained at a reasonable price; or
      (C) the copyright owner or its agent provides notice pursuant to regulations promulgated by the Register of Copyrights that either of the conditions set forth in subparagraphs (A) and (B) applies.

(3) The exemption provided in this subsection does not apply to any subsequent uses by users other than such library or archives.
Hrm. DC comics has released a substantial portion of their back issues digitally; Marvel hasn't, but those may not be within 20 years of end of copyright. Must do some research. (Superman hits public domain in 2033, Batman in 2034. Early comics about both would be eligible for this, if they're not available for sale.) (And hey, if the digital copies are for sale but there's no print version, a library has a good argument for having printouts available.)

The term "library or archives" is not defined, and does not seem to be required to be a registered nonprofit organization. ... Anyone want to start a Metafilter Digital Library?
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:18 AM on October 11, 2017

goatdog, I'm sure they would appreciate the information about any books still in print. I have already seen them respond positively when people have pointed out errors in commercial availability. The Internet Archive is not the type of place that plays fast and lose with copyright, they are trying to do this by the book, so to speak. Though the "Sonny Bono Memorial" bit is in poor taste, in my opinion. It's true that Bono damaged our culture in exchange for campaign cash, but it seems like a cheap shot that's out of place in an otherwise admirable effort.
posted by wnissen at 9:31 AM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

It looks like U.S.A. has already been moved out of this collection, but it's still available for checkout at the Open Library via the same link.
posted by Wobbuffet at 9:38 AM on October 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Key excerpt from XMLicious's link to Ars Technica's writeup on this:
The 1998 law was championed by big companies and the estates of famous authors and artists. But critics pointed out that it would needlessly limit public access to more obscure works—works that were out of print and therefore not generating any income for the authors or their heirs. And Congress was passing the law just as digitization technology and the Internet were making it possible to give these works a second life as free downloads.

So Congress included a provision giving libraries broad latitude to reproduce works that are in the last 20 years of their copyright terms for purposes of scholarship and research. The most significant restriction: the works have to be out of print and not available for a "reasonable price."

The Internet Archive is blazing a path for other libraries

Theoretically, then, the law allows libraries to scan hundreds of thousands of works from the 1920s and 1930s and post full copies online. But until this week, it seems that no one had done this yet—partly because the law is vague and partly because libraries must do some research to verify that a work qualifies for the exemption.

The Internet Archive is hoping to change that with the Sonny Bono Memorial Collection. The collection initially has only 62 obscure books, but Archive founder Brewster Kahle promises that "thousands more books will be added in the near future as we automate."

The Internet Archive worked with Tulane University copyright scholar Elizabeth Townsend Gard and two interns to develop an efficient process for determining which works qualify for online reproduction by libraries. The process includes searching Amazon for used copies as well as consulting commercial databases.
More on this general topic: Creating a Last Twenty (L20) Collection: Implementing Section 108(H) in Libraries, Archives and Museums (Elizabeth Townsend Gard, Tulane University Law School; Date Written: October 2, 2017)

The Durationator® Copyright Experiment (PDF) (Dr. Elizabeth Townsend Gard, Tulane University Law School
posted by filthy light thief at 12:34 PM on October 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Has anyone had success downloading the USA pdf? Adobe says it's corrupt and a cursory view of the file suggests it is a pdf.
posted by Horselover Fat at 9:11 AM on October 15, 2017

Yeah... out of all the files in Internet Archive download list the only one it will give me is named usai42ndparallel00dosp_encrypted.pdf, and my pdf reader prompts me for a password, but I don't see any indication on the site of what the password would be. All the other links I've tried give me "403 Forbidden".

I'm noticing that on the details page in place of the usual web-based reading interface is a message "This book is currently on loan. Log In and Join waitlist" and further down it says "409 Borrows", so I guess you have to sign up for an account and go through some process before you can see it.
posted by XMLicious at 9:55 AM on October 15, 2017

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