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Sep 17

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

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.

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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 said:

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.

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