It's Public Domain All Over Again
June 16, 2003 11:53 PM   Subscribe

Wow, jengod. No, make that: wowee!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:10 AM on June 17, 2003

What a fantastic collection of links!
posted by plep at 12:10 AM on June 17, 2003

Listen, Metafilter is a place for links to interesting things on the web, not-

Carry on.
posted by dong_resin at 1:46 AM on June 17, 2003

what works have Mefites created using public domain materials?

Created a page of William Hazlitt's On the Disadvantages of Intellectual Superiority when I couldn't find it outside a Project Gutenberg text file. Not much, but it's something.
posted by rory at 4:39 AM on June 17, 2003

It's not something that I created, but I found it interesting that both Paul Ford and Bruce Cockburn use the same public domain image.

Apologies for not reading all the links. I have a vacation coming up and have bookmarked the post for my summer reading.
posted by cedar at 4:39 AM on June 17, 2003

I created Wrote. Please excuse my current holiday.
posted by pedantic at 5:33 AM on June 17, 2003

Has "outmigged" made it to the new OED ???
posted by johnny7 at 7:15 AM on June 17, 2003

Wrote is mad written, dude.
posted by DenOfSizer at 7:18 AM on June 17, 2003

Anybody ever write a paper about Shakespeare? The music of Beethoven? Beowulf? The Constitution? Paleolithic cave art of France?

Then yes, you have used public domain materials to create something. Double points to anybody who wrote a book. Triple if it's available on

This issue clearly effects many more people than the casual observer might think it does.
posted by ilsa at 7:43 AM on June 17, 2003

Issue, shmissue! Look at all those lcool inks! Jesus, jengod, this is a great haul!

I'll get back to you on the issue once I get through all these. Thanks!
posted by soyjoy at 8:13 AM on June 17, 2003

Then yes, you have used public domain materials to create something.

Sure, but not in the sense intended here. You can just as readily write papers on Hemingway, the Beatles, or Warhol, within the boundaries of fair use. The point is that with public domain works you can put an entire article online, create an online gallery of an artist's entire output* and so on. You can even 'sample' it and use it in the creation of an entirely new work, and no-one will call it copyright infringement: they'll call it homage. That's the beauty of the public domain.

*If you are the one who has digitized from the original artwork, that is - scanned it, photographed it, whatever. Which can be difficult if the work is locked up in a gallery or museum which refuses to let you scan or photograph it. That's how Microsoft can lock up the digital rights to whole galleries full of paintings that are themselves in the public domain. The images on those canvasses are public domain, but the actual canvasses belong to someone, and they can grant exclusive access to Microsoft.

That's why print is so valuable to the public domain, giving more people a chance of getting hold of original copies, and one reason why the destruction by libraries of old books and newspapers and their replacement with microfilm or digital copies is so lamentable. Someone else owns the rights to the microfilmed version, and thanks to copyright extensions will own it for years to come - effectively locking up works that should be in the public domain.

Sucks, huh?

posted by rory at 8:15 AM on June 17, 2003

johnny7: LOL!
posted by quonsar at 8:37 AM on June 17, 2003

$1, eh? Gosh, that'll really stop big corporations in their tracks. I'm all for $1 PROVIDED that the CEO of the corporation in question has to deliver the fee in person, paid in cash, in seperate trips for each and every item of intellectual property in question. Otherwise, if it's permissible for it to be an automated process and somebody sending a cheque in I see an IT administrator somewhere setting up a small database and a cron job, and we're back where we started.
posted by kaemaril at 9:56 AM on June 17, 2003

Kaemaril, the point of charging $1 is that there is some accountability for the copyright holder -- if they care enough to go through the process of paying a buck to keep the copyright on their work intact, then they're obviously still interested in maintaining their ownership; if not, the work moves to the public domain where someone else may work with it.

There are vast rooms full of books and images that have latent copyrights attached, even though they're out of print and the original publishers/creators have forgotten they even own them, much less care to make money off them. No automated process is going to make a company suddenly remember and pay for an obscure, out-of-print book.

Sure, Disney will pay the money every year for every single property they own, but far more material will be able to enter the public domain.
posted by me3dia at 11:08 AM on June 17, 2003

me3dia: Maybe not books from 50-75 years ago, assuming they don't already have it on their database of works (and if they've got even a decent archivist, they well might) but from now on, in the computerised era? EVERYTHING will be going onto that database and WILL be renewed, unless the firm goes bankrupt or under. They won't even need to consider whether or not the item has any value, since it'll be cheaper to do it rather than spend somebody's valuable manhours figuring out whether or not it's cost-effective.
posted by kaemaril at 11:28 AM on June 17, 2003

What? No links to all the things Disney has made with public domain works. None?
posted by wobh at 11:40 AM on June 17, 2003

In the world of Greek & Latin studies, there are oodles of great resources mined from the public domain: besides the Perseus Project (texts & translations, grammar tools, and secondary sources), there's Woodhouse's Greek-English dictionary and a bunch of PDF reprints of standard grammars and commentaries, for example.

Another attempted circumvention of the cash-for-information principle usually governing printed books (especially for those without the benefit of a decent library): the free-lending, free-shipping Booklend Library.
posted by Zurishaddai at 4:06 PM on June 17, 2003

I made a site about the Black Loyalists - freed slaves who fought for the British during the Revolutionary War. It includes three slave narratives and lots of other material - most of which was basically unavailable outside of archives and one of which was only available in the British Museum previous to our project (paid for by the Canadian government, so not entirely out of the goodness of my heart).

One interesting thing I found from this experience was the very strange attitude of some public archives to digitizing public records. In Nova Scotia, they want you to sign a contract stating that you won't reproduce their material before they let you make a copy! (Remember, this is all public domain work - hundreds of years old). I had a very simple answer - I borrowed another researcher's personal archives and never signed their rather absurd contract.

Still, these attitudes are not confined to Mickey Mouse.

BTW, Wrote is simply amazing. Great stuff.
posted by datadawg at 10:40 PM on June 17, 2003

great thread & great links, jengod - thanks!
posted by madamjujujive at 5:51 AM on June 18, 2003

I own an art rubber stamp company that makes extensive use of public domain art. Some of it is used directly; some is altered. (Some art on the site is not PD; if you need to know if a particular image is PD, just ask.) By making stamps of these images, the images are made available to many people who can then use them to make various kinds of art with stamping techniques. (And if anyone has any interesting public domain material that would make good stamps, by all means, let me know.)

I'm also working on putting an 1898 genealogy book online. It's going to be a while before that's done, though.

(Thanks for all the links, jengod!)
posted by litlnemo at 7:45 AM on June 18, 2003

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