Carl Malamud Tackles the Copyright Office

Carl Malamud and Peter Brantley just let me know about another public interest letter, this one sent off to the Copyright Office this afternoon:

We are writing to you today to ask you to provide bulk
access to the copyright catalog of monographs, documents,
and serials on the Internet. Today this information is
available through two means:

  1. The Copyright Office maintains a web-based
    application that allows the public to search for individual
    records. However, no bulk access is available: one cannot
    download the entire database.
  2. The Cataloging and Distribution Service of the
    Library of Congress sells a current subscription for $31,500
    and makes the retrospective database available for $55,125
    for a total cost of entry of $86,625. The Library of
    Congress Terms
    of Use
    assert copyright on this
    data.

The copyright catalog of monographs, documents, and
serials is not a product, it is fuel that makes the
copyright system work. Anybody should be able to download
the entire database to their desktop, write a better search
application, or use this public domain information to
research copyright questions.

A price tag of $86,625 places this database beyond the
reach of university libraries, small businesses that wish to
provide a better copyright search service, and academics or
citizens wishing to analyze the copyright registration
process. Additionally, setting copyright restrictions on the
copyright database, a “work of the United States
Government,” runs directly counter to the
well-established principle that such works shall be in the
public domain. …

As a short-term expedient, should the Copyright Office be unable to obtain permission to make these data freely and directly available, we would like to offer to set up a collective fund for purchase of a single copy of the database, making it available for anyone to use. This would provide a public distribution channel–a safety valve for public access to this vital public database. We ask only that you help us clarify that there is no copyright on the database so that we may freely redistribute it.

P.S. In email to me, Carl mentioned the circumstances that led to this letter, which, in addition to Carl, is signed by Peter Brantley, executive director of the Digital Library Federation; Michael Keller, the University Librarian for Stanford University; noted copyright law professor Pamela Samuelson of UC Berkeley; Duane Webster, the executive director of the Association of Research Libraries; Gigi Sohn, president of the advocacy group Public Knowledge; H. Carton Rogers, the Vice Provost & Director of Libraries, University of Pennsylvania; Ann Wolpert, the library director at MIT; Robert Darnton, the director of the Harvard University Library; Thomas C. Leonard, the head librarian at the University of California, Berkeley; and Rick Prelinger, the board president of the Internet Archive.

Carl’s offices are now at O’Reilly’s campus in Sebastopol. There he ran into Peter Brantley, who also blogs for Radar on publishing topics. As Carl describes it:

Peter stopped by my office, we did the “what exactly do you do” thing …
he learned about Public.Resource.Org, I learned about the Digital
Library Federation. We did the “do you know” so-and-so thing, then
tried to figure out if there was something interesting we could do
together.

It’s the kind of interaction that happens all the time at OSCON and
your other public fora and I suspect it’s the kind of cross pollination
that happens as various parts of the O’Reilly empire meet …

In the late 80′s and the early 90′s, Interop was the place that kind
of cross pollination happened. In the early-mid 90′s, it was the IETF.
Lately, I’ve found that happening more and more at O’Reilly events.
It’s what happens when people bring their work into a common place,
which is such a different model from the traditional conventioneer
approach (where everybody leaves their work at home and comes in for
a vacation).

I’m really happy that Carl sees O’Reilly as the new convener of these kinds of fortuitous cross-connections, as it is very much a part of how we see our role, and our goal of “changing the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators.” So while we had no direct role in kicking off this particular event, I’m glad to have helped it along by chance.

tags:
  • http://www.stapleton-gray.com Ross Stapleton-Gray

    Oh, this is smack in the middle of the sweet spot of “makes every sense to make this freely accessible,” a la the EDGAR data Carl previously tackled. Yes, government ought to have a means to recoup the (low) cost of making it accessible; No, government shouldn’t be able to assert its own copyright.

  • Ken Williams

    Here is the copyright statement that Carl links to:

    Records in the MARC Distribution Services originating with the Library of Congress are copyrighted by the Library of Congress for use outside the United States. Subscribers are granted copyright permission to selectively redistribute records outside the United States; contact LC prior to any distribution.

    That seems to say that they do not assert copyright inside the United States.

    Furthermore, the records Carl is interested do not “originate with the Library of Congress”, it originates with its original authors, so it doesn’t seem to be covered by that statement anyway. Presumably the original authors maintain copyright but have granted the Copyright Office distribution rights (implicitly or explicitly) by submitting the documents for consideration.