Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2013 Issue

Copyright Law May Be Up for “Comprehensive Review”

Chgoodlatte

Chairman Goodlatte.

A “comprehensive review” of U.S. copyright law was recently announced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (he really should be Chairman of Starbucks). U.S. copyright law has been stuck well back in the twentieth century for quite awhile. Current technology has left it as outdated as the antenna televisions, huge mainframe computers, dial telephones, 8-track tapes, and AMC Gremlins popular the last time the code was seriously overhauled. Even the more recent changes enacted 15 years ago date to the infancy of the internet. This will be a long and contentious process, but it is overdue and necessary. Nothing will be affected more by this process than books.

The Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante, appeared before the committee earlier, and announced, “I think it is time for Congress to think about the next great copyright act...”, words the Chairman cited approvingly. Among her comments was that “authors do not have effective protections,” while “consumers and other private citizens are increasingly frustrated.”

Getting to specifics, Ms. Pallante told the congressmen, “Congress has requested a number of studies from the Copyright Office in recent years, on a variety of timely topics, including the first sale doctrine, orphan works, library exceptions, statutory licensing reform, federalization of pre-72 sound recordings, and mass digitization of books.” We will take a look at a couple of those issues as they have led to major lawsuits involving books in recent days – orphan works/mass digitization of books, and the first sale doctrine.

The mass digitization of books, and so-called “orphan books” in particular, is a real can of worms. It led to the Google Books lawsuit, which has dragged on for years, and now has as many parties as a small city. The decisions have, for the most part, gone against Google, though much remains to be resolved.

It used to be if you were doing research, or simply wanted to read an old book, you would go to the library. A large library would likely have a copy. However, with countless more new books being published every year, libraries facing budget problems, and the advent of a far more practical means of preserving old and seldom used works – digital copies – it's not so easy to find your book at a library.

As long as there was a physical copy of the book you wanted on the shelf, there were no copyright issues. The book was legally purchased years ago, and as such, could be legally accessed forever without permission of the copyright holder. Electronic books, however, must be copied. Therefore, they run into copyright restrictions. As long as the library handed you the physical copy, everything was fine, but if the library scans their legally purchased copy and lets you read it online, that is a copyright violation. The copyright law, which allows for permanent access to a library's physical “books,” does not function in the digital age. Electronic books allow for much greater access to obscure old books, and even from the convenience of your own home, rather than searching many libraries. Unfortunately, while making access much more practical, it also makes accessing the books illegal. Technological advances have the unintended consequence of making it harder to find the text of old books as libraries dispose of physical copies.

Congress, which heeds the call of special interests, not public interest, has made the problem greater in recent years by extending the length of copyrights. Most recently, in 2003, another 20 years was tacked on. That was done at the behest of the Disney Company, which contributes more to political campaigns than you do. The copyrights on early Mickey Mouse material were about to expire, so to protect Disney, Congress interfered with digital access to another twenty years worth of old books whose copyrights would have expired. Surely there is something ironic about a law, which is designed to protect what is known in the trade as “intellectual copy,” being expanded to protect Mickey Mouse.

So now, every book copyrighted after 1922 may be under copyright. In some cases it is not clear, depending on long ago renewals, but you are under risk if you digitize any book published after 1922. That covers a lot of important but obscure material, hard if not impossible to find in physical copies any more, and never to be published again. Google Books and possibly others wanted to make it available to you, but Congress said “no.” You didn't contribute enough to their campaigns. Thank you, Mickey.

Current law provides that a copyright (for works published after 1977) is for the life of the author plus 70 years. That's a long time. It used to be 28 years plus another 28 if you applied for an extension. Copyrights owned by corporations in most cases are good for 95 years. So we are generally talking about a century before electronic copies can be made of old books without permission of the author, which leads to the second issue, “orphan books.”

Copyright law provides you must get the copyright holder's permission to make an electronic copy of his/her work. If you want to make an electronic copy of Harry Potter, you can easily determine how to contact J.K. Rowling. How about if you want to make a copy of a book published in a single edition in 1925 by a long forgotten author? Let's say he died in 1928. Perhaps he willed all of his property to be divided equally among his ten children. Of course, his children, and perhaps even his grandchildren are all gone now too. Perhaps the rights now belong to 100 great-grandchildren. Where are they? How does one contact them? But, wait a minute. That assumes each was willed an equal share. Maybe some of the author's children favored one of their children over another, or died childless, sold their rights, or willed them to someone else. How can we possibly know now or track down all of these people? In other words, what it means is that it is impossible to obtain the copyright holders' permission to make an electronic copy, despite the fact that no one will be harmed by the electronic copy since this book has not earned a dime in royalties in almost a century and never will again. If this book is not in a library you can access, you cannot read it. An outdated copyright law denies the public access to a book while benefiting no one at all.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop.</b> LINCOLN, ABRAHAM. <i>A superb collection of manuscripts signed by Lincoln and relics related to Lincoln’s death</i>. Washington, 1864-1865
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> Rare Relic of the Underground Railroad (1857). <i>$500 Reward Ran away ...</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> CARTER, SUSANNAH. <i>The Frugal Housewife,</i> (1772) the second American cookbook, plates by Paul Revere.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> SCHIRRA, WALTER M.. Icon of the American Space Program. <i>A Complete Set of Schirra’s Flight Log Books (1947-69).</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> A fine pair of daguerreotypes, one a black nurse holding a white baby, the other the white parents. Maryland, c. 1853.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> The Internet. (COMPUTERS.) CERF, VINTON & KAHN, ROBERT. <i>"A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication" in IEEE Transactions on Communications.</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:<br>Art & Storytelling: Photographs<br>& Photobooks</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Marcus A. Root, "<i>General Tom Thumb</i>" with parents, daguerreotype, circa 1846. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> William Saunders, <i>Sketches of Chinese Life and Character</i>, album with 50 hand-colored photographs, 1871-72. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Wilson A. Bentley, album of 25 microphotographs from glass<br>plate negatives, 1888-1927.<br>$20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:<br>Art & Storytelling: Photographs<br>& Photobooks</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Hilla & Bernhard Becher, <i>Anonyme Skulpturen, Eine Typologie technischer Bauten</i>, first edition inscribed, Düsseldorf, 1970. $1,200 to $1,800.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Edward Ruscha, four seminal artist's books in original dust jackets.<br>$1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b> Typological set of more than 100 photographs of WWII fighter planes, 1942-45. $400 to $600.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 25:</b><br>Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes, <i>The Sweet Flypaper of Life</i>, first edition signed by authors, New York, 1955. $500 to $750.
  • <b>Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts, February 14th, 2016.</b>
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 9. HIERONYMUS. C.340-420. <i>Epistolae. WITH: Lupus de Oliveto. Regula Monachorum ...</i> US$ 20,000-30,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 47. FROST, A.B. 1858-1921. Shooting Pictures. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.<br>US$ 10,000-15,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 53. PICASSO, PABLO, RAOUL HAUSMANN, et al. ILIAZD, ed. Poesie de mots inconnus. 1949. US$ 8,000-12,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 64. BRIGGS, HENRY. 1561-1630. <i>The North Part of America</i>. [London: 1625]. Engraved by R. Elstracke. US$ 8,000-12,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 79. COPERNICUS, NICOLAUS. De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. 1566. US$ 80,000-120,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 80. DARWIN, CHARLES. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of ... US$ 70,000-90,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 87. NEWTON, ISAAC, SIR. Autograph Manuscript in Latin and English [n.p., early 1670s}. US$ 100,000-150,000
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 93. Dr. Kary Mullis' 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, awarded to him for the invention of the Polymerase Chain Reaction. US$ 450,000-550,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 96.<br>CLEMENS, SAMUEL. Autograph Manuscript, nearly complete chapter 30 of <i>A Tramp Abroad</i>, c.1879.<br>US$ 20,000-30,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 105. GOLF. [MATHISON, THOMAS. d.1754.]<br><i>The Goff</i>. An Heroi-Comical Poem.<br>US$ 40,000-60,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 113. JOYCE, JAMES. 1882-1941. <i>Ulysses</i>. First Edition, Presentation Copy, Signed and Inscribed by Joyce on the half-title. US$ 40,000-60,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 120. LONDON, JACK. Autograph Manuscript of the short story "Flush of Gold". US$ 40,000-60,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 135. STEINBECK, JOHN. Autograph Manuscript of an unpublished short story. US$ 35,000-45,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 149. GERONIMO. BARRETT, S.M., ed. Geronimo's Story of His Life. 1906. US$ 12,000-18,000.
    <b>Bonhams Feb 14th:</b> Lot 165.<br>ENOLA GAY. LEWIS, ROBERT A. An official pilot's log, 1942 to 1946.<br>US$ 50,000-80,000.
  • <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b><br>Lot 14. Blaeu,<i>Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Geographica ac Hydrographica Tabula</i>, 1635. Est. $14000-$16000
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b><br>Lot 305. Arrowsmith, <i>Texas: The Rise, Progress, and Prospects of the Republic of Texas</i>, 1841. Est. $18000-$20000
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b><br>Lot 256. Thackara, <i>Plan of the City<br>of Washington in the Territory of Columbia</i>, 1792. Est. $13000-$16000
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 188. Browne/Senex, A New<br>Map of Virginia Mary-land, 1719. <br>Est. $5500-$6500
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 47. Cellarius, <i>Scenographia Systematis Copernicani</i>, 1708.<br>Est. $2400-$3000
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 6. Ortelius, <i>Typus Orbis Terrarum</i>, 1571. Est. $7000-$8500
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 413. De Medina, <i>Mundo Novo,</i> 1554. Est. $7000-$9000
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 37. Jansson, <i>Histoire des Grands Chemins de l'Empire Romain</i>, 1736. Est. $3000-$3750
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 798. Le Rouge, <i>Atlas Nouveau Portatif a l'Usage des Militaires</i>, 1748. Est. $2400-$3000
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 60. Munster, <i>Tabula Novarum Insularum</i>, 1559. Est. $5500-$7000
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 122. Morden, <i>A New Map of the English Empire in America</i>, 1695. <br>Est. $14000-$16000
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 291. J.J. Stoner, Niagara-Falls, <br>N.Y., 1882. Est. $1600-$1900
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 797. Sanson, <i>Die Gantze Erd-Kugel</i> ... Europa, Asia, Africa und America, 1679. Est. $8000-$10000
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 799. Lotter/Lobeck, Atlas Geographicus Portatilis, 1760.<br>Est. $1600-$1900
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 808. Railroad Companies, [<i>Manuscript Railroad Atlas</i>], 1890.<br>Est. $1000-$1500
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 3-17):</b> <br>Lot 800. Pinkerton, <i>A Modern Atlas</i>, 1815. Est. $8000-$10000

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