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Old 12-02-2010, 08:59 AM   #1
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Copyfraud - public domain's fate?

It turns out it's very easy to set oneself up as a copyright owner of public domain book:

1. Take the public domain book from Project Gutenberg or Google Books,
2. Reformat it as PDF,
3. Mark it with a copyright date,
4. Register it as a new book with an ISBN,
5. Submit it to Amazon.com for sale,
6. Tell Google books and all other sites providing the public domain version for free to restrict the access to it, as you're the copyright owner.

Apparently it works, and is currently used to effectively remove thousands of XVIII-XIX century books from public domain.

Also, it's claimed to be legal according to current US copyright laws (IANAL).

Though even if it is illegal, it would be effective due to the cost of making sure each book belongs in the public domain before the "copyright owner"'s claim can be rejected. Just like piracy works because the cost of taking all real copyright violators to courts is provibitive.

And here I hoped I wouldn't have to mirror the entire public domain on my hard drive....

Sources:
http://mikecanex.wordpress.com/2010/...n-parasites-2/
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/06/26/copyfraud/
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Old 12-02-2010, 09:22 AM   #2
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Aren't books published in the US before 1923 automatically in the public domain? So why doesn't Google tell them to shove it?
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Old 12-02-2010, 09:31 AM   #3
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1.-5. No problem; this is legal. Anyone could do that.

6. Now, here it is getting interesting. Such an action is only possible if Google & friends approve it and play along. Which they will. Their aim is to make money, also with public domain work. If such a publisher should address Project Gutenberg, he is likely to receive quite a different answer.

Those titles definitley are not out of public domain BUT they may well be out of any commercial archive trying to make money. The more important sites like PG or Mobileread exist to offer such works for free, without any commercial interest.

Last edited by K-Thom; 12-02-2010 at 09:37 AM.
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Old 12-02-2010, 09:45 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by K-Thom View Post
1.-5. No problem; this is legal. Anyone could do that.
Only if you add your own material to it. Eg, by writing an introduction, or adding footnotes. The copyright would then only apply to the material that you'd added. You cannot claim a copyright on a direct copy of a public domain text. (Well you could, but it would have no validity).
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Old 12-02-2010, 09:47 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by K-Thom View Post
The more important sites like PG or Mobilread exist to offer such works for free, without any commercial interest.
I do not think that Mobile Read has the same agenda as Project Gutenberg (and why it should?). Specifically, "Gone With The Wind" is in public domain in Canada, but when the estate threatened a legal action (which will inevitably fail if someone had a money and time to defend in the Canadian court of law), the book was removed from the e-book collection. Australian Project Gutenberg, however, still has the book in their collection, despite receiving similarly worded "greeting".

Do not get me wrong, I do not blame Mobile Read for avoiding that nightmare. I am just pointing out how costly and lengthy the defence of public domain can turn out. Which is, precisely, the reason why lawyer bullying works.
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Old 12-02-2010, 10:05 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ankh View Post
Do not get me wrong, I do not blame Mobile Read for avoiding that nightmare. I am just pointing out how costly and lengthy the defence of public domain can turn out. Which is, precisely, the reason why lawyer bullying works.
So when the law says life + 50 years, it's not really that clear cut and that determining the death of an author is really a complex, convoluted, legal nightmare?

Maybe Mitchell is still alive and living on a comet?

Little wonder some resort to piracy.
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Old 12-02-2010, 10:24 AM   #7
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99.9% of this is a failure to understand how public domain works.

If I want to charge you for a public domain book, that is 100% legal. Publishers have done this for years in paper form. A publisher can also add new content, such as an introductory essay, and copyright that specific portion.

Meanwhile, the ebook version of the Hearn book in question will run you a whopping $0.99 from Amazon. Wow, what a rip.

I can see how larger entities may err on the side of caution, but I seriously doubt this issue is anywhere near as frightening as the articles try to make out. This is merely fear-mongering.
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Old 12-02-2010, 10:32 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tubemonkey View Post
So when the law says life + 50 years, it's not really that clear cut and that determining the death of an author is really a complex, convoluted, legal nightmare?
Not quite.

The problem is that a Gutenberg website in Australia is almost certainly not restricting its downloads to Australian citizens. As such, if a US citizen accesses Gone With the Wind from the Aussie site, that could present a legitimate issue.

Ebook retailers don't really have this problem, since in theory they have a verifiable method to determine the country where the buyer resides -- and an open website does not. Thus if a book is PD in England and copyrighted in the US, they can accommodate those different copyright term lengths.

It's also my understanding that if you were printing a paper copy and selling it in Australia, the Mitchell estate can't stop you unless you tried to export those books to the US for sale.
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Old 12-02-2010, 10:33 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kali Yuga View Post
If I want to charge you for a public domain book, that is 100% legal. Publishers have done this for years in paper form. A publisher can also add new content, such as an introductory essay, and copyright that specific portion.
~~~~~
I can see how larger entities may err on the side of caution, but I seriously doubt this issue is anywhere near as frightening as the articles try to make out. This is merely fear-mongering.
No problem with that. More power to them for doing so.
~~~~~
That's not being cautious; it's succumbing to bullying tactics even though the law is clearly on their side. If they're going to cave this easily, then I have no sympathy for their position whatsoever.
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Old 12-02-2010, 10:41 AM   #10
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Frankly, this is rubbish. All it's saying is that the likes of Google and Amazon have decided to remove certain works form their PD collections - probably out of caution.

There's absolutely no suggestion that converting a book to PDF, adding a copyright notice, or obtaining an ISBN for it would confer any rights on the person doing it. The only way to obtain a copyright is to create a work, either by writing, painting, photographing, adapting, translating, etc.
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Old 12-02-2010, 10:43 AM   #11
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Not quite.

The problem is that a Gutenberg website in Australia is almost certainly not restricting its downloads to Australian citizens. As such, if a US citizen accesses Gone With the Wind from the Aussie site, that could present a legitimate issue.
This is PGA's warning notice for Gone With the Wind. What more is needed?

Quote:
Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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Old 12-02-2010, 11:06 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
Only if you add your own material to it. Eg, by writing an introduction, or adding footnotes. The copyright would then only apply to the material that you'd added. You cannot claim a copyright on a direct copy of a public domain text. (Well you could, but it would have no validity).
It does not have validity, but Google Books still restricts access to such books, and it doesn't have the resources to check if it shouldn't, which means people selling the book successfully disposed of the competition in this case.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike L View Post
Frankly, this is rubbish. All it's saying is that the likes of Google and Amazon have decided to remove certain works form their PD collections - probably out of caution.

There's absolutely no suggestion that converting a book to PDF, adding a copyright notice, or obtaining an ISBN for it would confer any rights on the person doing it. The only way to obtain a copyright is to create a work, either by writing, painting, photographing, adapting, translating, etc.
Yes, it would turn out they don't have rights to those works, but each case would have to be researched and judged to determine that. Currently, the companies claiming to have copyright on such books are making money, and oerating as if they really had the copyright. I'm not sure if there's any mechanism that will operate to call them on it, and thousands of public domain books are definitely unavailable from Google solely as a result of this business process.
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Old 12-02-2010, 11:06 AM   #13
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The problem is that a Gutenberg website in Australia is almost certainly not restricting its downloads to Australian citizens. As such, if a US citizen accesses Gone With the Wind from the Aussie site, that could present a legitimate issue.
It's an issue for the downloader (he is breaking US copyright law). It's absolutely not an issue for the web site: they have presented the downloader with a clear warning which he has chosen to ignore.
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Old 12-02-2010, 12:45 PM   #14
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You can't steal something from the public domain, period; nor by doing what was described above can you convert a public domain to your exclusive commercial use, period. What you can do is take a public domain work, stick it in a book, and copyright whatever is copyrightable in your particular edition. For example, if a publisher decides Great Expectations would look perfect if all the a's were changed to x's and published it that way, then maybe someone doing the same could be sued for infringement. More to the point if you do what Barnes and Nobles did with their Classics series, which is to add commentary, footnotes, you can't simply copy one of their editions, because the commentary and notes and the nice cover are copyrightable. But that does not in any way remove the original work from the public domain. Anyone who is running a business on that basis might scam a few people into thinking that they actually own public domain works, but if they try to get infringement money from someone it will backfire, and they will be the ones in legal trouble.
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Old 12-02-2010, 12:55 PM   #15
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I had been reading at EFF.org's Wall of Shame, yesterday, on bogus take-down notices. Today eff.org is quite disabled.
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