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What We Hope the Digital Public Library of America Will Become

Jonathan Gray - April 17, 2013 in Bibliographic, Featured, Free Culture, Open Content, Open GLAM, Open Humanities, Policy, Public Domain

Tomorrow is the official launch date for the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).

If you’ve been following it, you’ll know that it has the long term aim of realising “a large-scale digital public library that will make the cultural and scientific record available to all”.

More specifically, Robert Darnton, Director of the Harvard University Library and one of the DPLA’s leading advocates to date, recently wrote in the New York Review of Books, that the DPLA aims to:

make the holdings of America’s research libraries, archives, and museums available to all Americans—and eventually to everyone in the world—online and free of charge

What will this practically mean? How will the DPLA translate this broad mission into action? And to what extent will they be aligned with other initiatives to encourage cultural heritage institutions to open up their holdings, like our own OpenGLAM or Wikimedia’s GLAM-WIKI?

Here are a few of our thoughts on what we hope the DPLA will become.

A force for open metadata

The DPLA is initially focusing its efforts on making existing digital collections from across the US searchable and browsable from a single website.

Much like Europe’s digital library, Europeana, this will involve collecting information about works from a variety of institutions and linking to digital copies of these works that are spread across the web. A super-catalogue, if you will, that includes information about and links to copies of all the things in all the other catalogues.

Happily, we’ve already heard that the DPLA is releasing all of this data about cultural works that they will be collecting using the CC0 legal tool – meaning that anyone can use, share or build on this information without restriction.

We hope they continue to proactively encourage institutions to explicitly open up metadata about their works, and to release this as machine-readable raw data.

Back in 2007, we – along with the late Aaron Swartz – urged the Library of Congress to play a leading role in opening up information about cultural works. So we’re pleased that it looks like DPLA could take on the mantle.

But what about the digital copies themselves?

A force for an open digital public domain

The DPLA has spoken about using fair use provisions to increase access to copyrighted materials, and has even intimated that they might want to try to change or challenge the state of the law to grant further exceptions or limitations to copyright for educational or noncommercial purposes (trying to succeed where Google Books failed). All of this is highly laudable.

But what about works which have fallen out of copyright and entered the public domain?

Just as they are doing with metadata about works, we hope that the DPLA takes a principled approach to digital copies of works which have entered the public domain, encouraging institutions to publish these without legal or technical restrictions.

We hope they become proactive evangelists for a digital public domain which is open as in the Open Definition, meaning that digital copies of books, paintings, recordings, films and other artefacts are free for anyone to use and share – without restrictive clickwrap agreements, digital rights management technologies or digital watermarks to impose ownership and inhibit further use or sharing.

The Europeana Public Domain Charter, in part based on and inspired by the Public Domain Manifesto, might serve as a model here. In particular, the DPLA might take inspiration from the following sections:

What is in the Public Domain needs to remain in the Public Domain. Exclusive control over Public Domain works cannot be re-established by claiming exclusive rights in technical reproductions of the works, or by using technical and or contractual measures to limit access to technical reproductions of such works. Works that are in the Public Domain in analogue form continue to be in the Public Domain once they have been digitised.

The lawful user of a digital copy of a Public Domain work should be free to (re-) use, copy and modify the work. Public Domain status of a work guarantees the right to re-use, modify and make reproductions and this must not be limited through technical and or contractual measures. When a work has entered the Public Domain there is no longer a legal basis to impose restrictions on the use of that work.

The DPLA could create their own principles or recommendations for the digital publication of public domain works (perhaps recommending legal tools like the Creative Commons Public Domain Mark) as well as ensuring that new content that they digitise is explicitly marked as open.

Speaking at our OpenGLAM US launch last month, Emily Gore, the DPLA’s Director for Content, said that this is definitely something that they’d be thinking about over the coming months. We hope they adopt a strong and principled position in favour of openness, and help to raise awareness amongst institutions and the general public about the importance of a digital public domain which is open for everyone.

A force for collaboration around the cultural commons

Open knowledge isn’t just about stuff being able to freely move around on networks of computers and devices. It is also about people.

We think there is a significant opportunity to involve students, scholars, artists, developers, designers and the general public in the curation and re-presentation of our cultural and historical past.

Rather than just having vast pools of information about works from US collections – wouldn’t it be great if there were hand picked anthologies of works by Emerson or Dickinson curated by leading scholars? Or collections of songs or paintings relating to a specific region, chosen by knowledgable local historians who know about allusions and references that others might miss?

An ‘open by default’ approach would enable use and engagement with digital content that breathes a life into it that it might not otherwise have – from new useful and interesting websites, mobile applications or digital humanities projects, to creative remixing or screenings of out of copyright films with new live soundtracks (like Air’s magical reworking of Georges Méliès’s 1902 film Le Voyage Dans La Lune).

We hope that the DPLA takes a proactive approach to encouraging the use of the digital material that it federates, to ensure that it is as impactful and valuable to as many people as possible.

Open and the “Next Great Copyright Act”

Mike Linksvayer - March 20, 2013 in Legal, Open Content, Public Domain

Director of the U.S. Copyright Office Maria Pallante is expected to call today for updates to U.S. copyright law. Her brief written testimony is already available and a longer speech given two weeks ago (titled “The Next Great Copyright Act”) provides additional flavor.

Substantial changes to copyright will take years to play out in the U.S., and similarly around the world. If Open is to impact how copyright and other knowledge regulation plays out over the next years, we must assert how and why, and develop our strategies for making it so. Statements like Pallante’s provide not-to-be-missed opportunities to contextualize and explain the importance of Open to the world.

While Pallante’s calls are at best a mixed bag, two items offer glimmers of hope and are useful for illustrating both the value and strategy of Open:

Congress also may need to apply fresh eyes to the next great copyright act to ensure that the copyright law remains relevant and functional. This may require some bold adjustments to the general framework. You may want to consider alleviating some of the pressure and gridlock brought about by the long copyright term — for example, by reverting works to the public domain after a period of life plus fifty years unless heirs or successors register their interests with the Copyright Office.

50 years with an option for more is far from anything that might be considered optimal — OKF’s Rufus Pollock has estimated 15 years and others less, even before accounting for values achieved through openness such as freedom and equality — and is a dangerous place to start new debate, considering that Disney lobbyists have not yet weighed in.

But any possibility of mitigating the heretofore relentless march of copyright term extension and by implication appreciation of the value of the public domain is welcome, and an opportunity.

Some of the most compelling work by the Open community involves making public domain works accessible, and celebrating our bounty. Compelling for culture — and critical for policy. What better way to make the case for expanding and protecting the public domain than to demonstrate and increase the value of works that are free of copyright restriction even now? Well, we have to talk about our work in those terms, loudly! Public Domain Review postcards


And in compelling circumstances, you may wish to reverse the general principle of copyright law that copyright owners should grant prior approval for the reproduction and dissemination of their works — for example, by requiring copyright owners to object or “opt out” in order to prevent certain uses, whether paid or unpaid, by educational institutions or libraries.

Openly licensed works — those that all are free to use, reuse, and redistribute subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and/or share-alike — unambiguously permit such uses, right now, and are increasingly becoming expected and even mandated where public funding is provided or public benefit is a primary goal. What better way to make the case for liberal policy where public funding or benefit is at stake than to promote and demonstrate the value of Open works now? Again, we have to talk about our usual pro-openness work’s relevance to policy, loudly!

But open licensing is opt-in (even when mandated, it is as if a group opted-in, still leaving default policy for everyone else), ultimately limiting its impact. We shouldn’t shy away from that reality — indeed it is a key reason open licensing can be, if we make it so, a harbinger of better default policy, but not at all a substitute for better default policy.

When positioning Open in the context of broader copyright and other information regulation debates, we shouldn’t be content to merely address points made in those debates, but from an Open perspective. We must also raise additional issues that arise from the experience of Open movements: a knowledge commons requires protection and promotion.

Private enclosure of public domain and Open works, eg through “copyfraud”, might be addressed through policy. Ensuring the public’s right to audit, understand, replicate, and modify data and tools such as software and designs for research and hardware, might be addressed through policy. Actually we know these can be addressed through policy, as demonstrated for decades on an opt-in basis through copyleft, one of the signal innovations of our movements.

Although over 25 years old (starting with free software), open licenses and the amazing projects that use them (that run the Internet, and are making governments more transparent, bit by bit, and so much more) have played almost no explicit role in debates about default copyright policy. Hopefully you’re beginning to think that we can change that — with little or no alteration of our existing Open activities, as we mainly need to appreciate just how provocative and potent those are, and tell the public, especially the policy world.

Ultimately, we can shift the centrality of “copyright policy” to that of “open policy” — what information regulation is best for the knowledge commons — for all humanity’s yearning for freedom, equality, and well governed institutions.

Version Variation Visualisation

Tom Cheesman - February 8, 2013 in Featured Project, Open Content, Public Domain, WG Linguistics

In 2010, I had a long paper about the history of German translations of Othello rejected by a prestigious journal. The reviewer wrote: “The Shakespeare Industry doesn’t need more information about world Shakespeare. We need navigational aids.”

About the same time, David Berry turned me on to Digital Humanities. I got a team together (credits) and we’ve built some cool new tools.

All culturally important works are translated over and over again. The differences are interesting. Different versions of Othello reflect changing, contested ideas about race, gender and sexuality, political power, and so on, over the centuries, right up to the present day. Hence any one translation is just one snapshot from its local place and moment in time, just one interpretation, and what’s interesting and productive is the variation, the diversity.

But with print culture tools, you need a superhuman memory, a huge desk and ideally several assistants, to leaf backwards and forwards in all the copies, so you can compare and contrast. And when you present your findings, the minutiae of differences can be boring, and your findings can’t be verified. How do you know I haven’t just picked quotations that support my argument?

But with digital tools, multiple translations become material people can easily work and play with, research and create with, and we can begin to use them in totally new ways.

Recent work

vvv screenshot2 We’ve had funding from UK research councils and Swansea University to digitize 37 German versions of Othello (1766-2010) and build these prototype tools. There you can try out our purpose-built database and tools for freely segmenting and aligning multiple versions; our timemap of versions; our parallel text navigation tool which uses aligned segment attributes for navigation; and most innovative of all: the tool we call ‘Eddy and Viv’. This lets you compare all the different translations of any segment (with help from machine translation), and it also lets you read the whole translated text in a new way, though the variety of translations. You don’t need to know the translating language.

This is a radical new idea (more details on our platform). Eddy and Viv are algorithms: Eddy calculates how much each translation of each segment differs in wording from others, then Viv maps the variation in the results of that analysis back onto the translated text segments.

This means you can now read Shakespeare in English, while seeing how much all the translators disagree about how to interpret each speech or line, or even each word. It’s a new way of reading a literary work through translators’ collective eyes, identifying hotspots of variation. And you don’t have to be a linguist.

Future plans and possible application to collections of public domain texts

I am a linguist, so I’m interested in finding new ways to overcome language barriers, but equally I’m interested in getting people interested in learning languages. Eddy and Viv have that double effect. So these are not just research tools: we want to make a cultural difference.

We’re applying for further funding. We envisage an open library of versions of all sorts of works, and a toolsuite supporting experimental and collaborative approaches to understanding the differences, using visualizations for navigation, exploration and comparison, and creating presentations for research and education.

The tools will work with any languages, any kinds of text. The scope is vast, from fairy tales to philosophical classics. You can also investigate versions in just one language – say, different editions of an encyclopedia, or different versions of a song lyric. It should be possible to push the approach beyond text, to audio and video, too.

Shakespeare is a good starting point, because the translations are so numerous, increasing all the time, and the differences are so intriguing. But a few people have started testing our tools on other materials, such as Jan Rybicki with Polish translations of Joseph Conrad’s work. If we can demonstrate the value, and simplify the tasks involved, people will start on other ‘great works’ – Aristotle, Buddhist scripture, Confucius, Dante (as in Caroline Bergvall’s amazing sound work ‘Via’), Dostoyevski, Dumas…

Many translations of transculturally important works are in the public domain. Most are not, yet. So copyright is a key issue for us. We hope that as the project grows, more copyright owners will be willing to grant more access. And of course we support reducing copyright restrictions.

Tim Hutchings, who works on digital scriptures, asked me recently: “Would it be possible to create a platform that allowed non-linguist readers to appreciate the differences in tone and meaning between versions in different languages? … without needing to be fluent in all of those languages.” – Why not, with imaginative combinations of various digital tools for machine translation, linguistic analysis, sentiment analysis, visualization and not least: connecting people.

Vice Italy interview with the editor of the Public Domain Review

Theodora Middleton - January 28, 2013 in Interviews, Public Domain, Public Domain Review

The editor of The Public Domain Review, Adam Green, recently gave a feature-length interview to Vice magazine Italy. You can find the original in Italian here, and an English version below!

While there is a wealth of copyright-free material available online, The Public Domain Review is carving out a niche as strongly curated website with a strong editorial line. How did the PDR begin?

Myself and The Public Domain Review’s other co-founder, Jonathan Gray, have long been into digging around in the these huge online archives of digitised material – places like the Internet Archive and Wikimedia Commons – mostly to find things with which to make collages. We started a little blog called Pingere to share some of the more unusual and compelling things that we stumbled across. Jonathan suggested that we turned this into a bigger project aiming to celebrate and showcase the wonderfulness of this public domain material that was out there. We took the idea to the Open Knowledge Foundation, a non-profit which promotes open access to knowledge in a variety of fields, and they helped us to secure some initial seed funding for the project. And so the Public Domain Review was born.

What was the first article you posted?

We initially focused on things which were just coming into the public domain that year. In many countries works enter the public domain 70 years after the death of the author or artist – although there are lots of weird rules and exceptions (often unnecessarily complicated!). Anyway, 2011 saw the works of Nathaniel West enter the public domain, including his most famous book Day of the Locusts. The first article was about that, and West’s relationship with Hollywood, written by Marion Meade who’d recently published a book on the subject.

What criteria do you use to choose stuff for the Review?

As the name suggests, all our content is in the ‘public domain’, so that is the first criterion. We try to focus on works that are in the public domain in most countries, which isn’t as easy as it sounds as every country has different rules. Generally it means stuff created by people who passed away before the early 1940s. The second criterion is that there are no restrictions on the reuse of the digital copies of the public domain material.

What kind of restrictions?

Well, some countries say that in order to qualify for copyright digital reproductions have to demonstrate some minimal degree of originality, and others say that there just needs to be demonstrable investment in the digitisation (the so-called “sweat of the brow” doctrine). Many big players in the world of digitisation – like Google, Microsoft, the Bridgeman Art Library, and national institutions – argue that they own rights in their digital reproductions of works that have entered the public domain, perhaps so they can sell or restrict access to them later down the line. We showcase material from institutions who have already decided to openly license their digitisations. We are also working behind the scenes to encourage more institutions to do the same and see free and open access to their holdings as part of their public mission.

But you have a strong aesthetic line as well, don’t you?

Yes of course, the material has to be interesting! We tend to go for stuff which is less well known, so rather than put up all the works of Charles Dickens (as great as they are) we’ll go instead for something toward the more unorthodox end of the cultural spectrum, e.g. a personal oracle book belonging to Napoleon, or a 19th century attempt to mathematically model human consciousness through geometric forms. I guess a sort of alternative history to the mainstream narrative, an attempt to showcase just some of the excellence and strangeness of human ideas and activity which exist ‘inbetween’ these bigger events and works about which the narrative of history is normally woven.

Is there anything you wouldn’t publish?

I guess there is some material which is perhaps a little too controversial for the virtuous pages of the PDR – such as the racier work of Thomas Rowlandson or some of the less family friendly works of the 16th century Italian printmaker Agostino Carracci. Our most risque thing to date is probably a collection of some of Eadweard Muybridge’s ‘animal locomotion’ portfolio, which included a spot of naked tennis.

It seems that authors are becoming less and less important, publishers are facing extinction, and yet the potential for users of content is ever-expanding. What do you think about the future of publishing?

It is certainly true that things are radically changing in the publishing world. Before the advent of digital technologies, publishers were essentially gatekeepers of what words were seen in the public sphere. You saw words in books and newspapers and – for many people – that was pretty much it. What you saw was the result of decisions made by a handful of people. But now this has changed. People don’t need publishing contracts to get their words seen. Words, pictures and audiovisual material can be shared and spread at virtually no cost with just a few clicks. But people still do want to read words in books. And they turn to publishers – through bookshops, the media, etc – to find new things to read. While there is DIY print-on-demand publishing, it is hard to compete with the PR and promotion of professional publishers. I don’t think publishers will become extinct. No doubt they will adapt to new markets in search for profits.

Is the internet causing works to become more detached from their authors? Is there a way in which this could be a good thing?

With the rise of digital technologies it is, no doubt, much easier for this detachment to happen. Words leave the confines of books and articles, get copied and pasted into blogs, websites and social media, are shared through illegal downloads, etc, perhaps losing proper attribution along the way. But in a way none of this is new. It is just a more accelerated version of what has happened for hundreds of years. If anything it is probably better for authors now than it was with the past – as the internet also enables people to try to check where things come from, their pedigree and provenance. In the 17th century, before there was a proper copyright law, it was common for whole books to be “stolen”, given a new title and cover, and be sold under a new author’s name.

Could this be a good thing? Well, one could argue that reuse and reworking are an essential part of the creative process. We can find brilliant examples of literary pastiche and collaging techniques in the works of writers like W.G. Sebald, where you are not sure whether he’s speaking with his own words or that of another writer (whose work he is discussing). In Sebald’s case it gives the whole piece a fluency and unity, a sense that its one voice, of humanity or history speaking. But of course Sebald’s work is protected by copyright held by his publishers or his literary estate. One wonders whether one could use his works in the same way and get away with it.

So is copyright a big negative?

No not at all – from the perspective of artists/writers copyrighting their work, in general it makes complete sense to me. This is not just about money but also about artistic control over how a work is delivered. Looking back to the past before copyright – it wasn’t just about royalties but also about reputation, about preventing or discouraging mischievous or sloppy reuse. While copyright is far from perfect – and often pretty flawed – it still offers creators a basic level of protection for the things that they have created. As an author or artist if you want something more flexible than your standard copyright license then you can combine it with things like Creative Commons licenses to say how you want others to be able to use your works.

The question of how long (or whether!) works should be copyrighted after the death of creators is an entirely different question. I think copyright laws and international agreements are currently massively skewed in favour of big publishers and record companies (often supported by well heeled lobbyist groups purporting to serve the neglected interests of famous authors and aging rock stars), and do not take sufficient account of the public domain as a positive social good: a cultural commons, free for everyone.

Have you ever had problems with a copyright claim from an author?

Well almost all of the public domain material we feature is by people who are long dead, so we haven’t (thank god!) had any direct complaints from them. We did get one take down notice on Gurideff’s Harmonium Recordings. The law can get very complex, particularly around films and sound recordings. I am not sure they were right, but we took it down all the same.

What are your plans for the future?

As well as expansion of the site with exciting new features we are also planning to break out from the internet into the real world of objects! We’re planning to produce some beautiful printed volumes with collections of images and texts curated around certain themes. We’ve wanted to do this for a while, and hopefully we’ll have time (and funds!) to finally do this next year.

You can sign up to The Public Domain Review’s wonderful newsletter here

Digital Public Library of America recommends CC0

Joris Pekel - January 22, 2013 in Open GLAM, Open Standards, Public Domain

The following post is cross-posted from the OpenGLAM blog.

On the OpenGLAM blog we have previously written about the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), an initiative that has the goal to make the cultural and scientific heritage of humanity available, free of charge, to all. To achieve this goal the board of directors has recommended applying the CC0 public domain waiver to the metadata.

The Digital Public Library of America

The Digital Public Library of America

The vision of the DPLA is to provide one click access to many different resource types, with the initial focus on producing a resource that gives full text access to books in public domain, e.g. from Hathi Trust, the Internet Archive, and U.S and international research libraries. In order to create a true complete collection of available content and data, it is important that the DPLA makes its data interoperable with other datasets from initiatives and institutions all over the world. To make this work, the various datasets have to be compliant, both legally and technically.

Last week, the board of directors of the DPLA had a meeting and the metadata licensing policy was discussed.

The proposed policy is as follows:
  • The DPLA asserts that metadata are not copyrightable, and that applying a license to them is not necessary.
  • To the extent that the law determines a copyright interest exists, a CC0 license applies.
  • The DPLA asserts no new rights over metadata at the DPLA level.

This is also reflected in the about page of the DPLA

Metadata is a key part of the DPLA discovery framework; it describes content and resources in the DPLA, enables users to find them, and connects US holdings to holdings in other countries. The DPLA will aggregate existing library data and create new data; it will operate as part of a global linked data environment. All DPLA-created metadata will be made freely available in reusable form, except where doing so would violate personal privacy. All metadata contributed to or funded by the DPLA will be placed in the public domain.

Leaving Europe: a new life in America virtual exhibition

The decision to apply the CC0 Public Domain waiver to the metadata will greatly improve interoperability with Europeana, Europe’s equivalent of the DPLA. Now that more different initiatives start publishing digitised heritage and its metadata, interoperability becomes more and more important in order to create a linked web of cultural heritage data, instead of new data silos. By both choosing the CC0 Public Domain waiver, Europeana and the DPLA take a great a step forward in achieving their goal.

A first example of what can result out of this collaboration is the virtual exhibition “Leaving Europe: a new life in America” where the story of European immigrants is being presented, using material from both the US and Europe.

The DPLA will launch on April 18 this year in Boston.

Communia condemns the privatisation of the Public Domain by the BnF

Primavera De Filippi - January 21, 2013 in Bibliographic, COMMUNIA, OK France, Public Domain

Last week the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) concluded two new agreements with private companies to digitze over 70.000 old books, 200.000 sound recordings and other documents belonging (either partially or as a whole) to the public domain. While these public private partnerships enable the digitization of these works they also contain 10-year exclusive agreements allowing the private companies carrying out the digitization to commercialize the digitized documents. During this period only a limited number of these works may be offered online by the BnF.

Together with La Quadrature du Net, Framasoft, SavoirsCom1 and the Open Knowledge Foundation France, COMMUNIA has issued a statement (in french) to express our profound disagreement with the terms of these partnerships that restrict digital access to an important part of Europe’s cultural heritage. The agreements that the BnF has entered into, effectively take the works being digitized out of the public domain for the next 10 years.

The value of the public domain lies in the free dissemination of knowledge and the ability for everyone to access and create new works based on previous works. Yet, instead of taking advantage of the opportunities offered by digitization, the exclusivity of these agreements will force public bodies, such as research institutions or university libraries, to purchase digital content that belongs to the common cultural heritage.

As such, these partnerships constitute a commodification of the public domain by contractual means. COMMUNIA, of which the OKFN is a partner, has been critical of such arrangements from the start (see their Public Domain Manifesto) and Policy Reccomendations 4 & 5. More interestingly these agreements are also in direct contradiction with the Public Domain Charter published by the Europeana Foundation in 2011. In this context it is interesting to note that the director of Bibliothèque nationale de France currently serves as the chairman of the Europeana Foundation’s Executive Board.

Sita’s free: Landmark copyleft animated film is now licensed CC0

Sarah Stierch - January 19, 2013 in Free Culture, Open Content, Public Domain, Public Domain Works

Sit back and relax're free!

Sit back and relax’re free!

This past Friday, American cartoonist, animator, and free culture activist Nina Paley announced she was releasing her landmark animated film Sita Sings the Blues under a Creative Commons CC0 licenseSita Sings the Blues is quite possibly the most famous animated film to be released under an open license. The 82 minute film, which is an autobiographical story mixed with an adaptation of the Ramayana, was released in 2008 under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

Paley, a well known copyleft and free licensing advocate, found inspiration for releasing Sita in recent life events. The day after learning about the death of internet activist and computer programmer Aaron Swartz, Paley was asked to provide permissions, by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), for filmmaker Chris Landreth to “refer” to Sita Sings the Blues in an upcoming film. Challenges with NFB lawyers reminded Paley of the challenges Swartz faced in relation to his “freeing” of JSTOR documents. “I couldn’t bear to enable more bad lawyers, more bad decisions, more copyright bullshit, by doing unpaid paperwork for a corrupt and stupid system. I just couldn’t,” Paley explained on her blog. She refused to sign the paperwork, and the NFB requested that Landreth remove any mentions of Sita in his film.

“CC-0 is as close as I can come to a public vow of legal nonviolence,” Paley states, channeling her frequent frustration with film industry lawyers and copyrights. In a copyleft community where participants are often challenged on what license is the best option, Paley took this chance to attempt to discover that: “I honestly have not been able to determine which Free license is “better,” and switching to CC-0 may help answer that question.”

Sita can now sing the blues (or perhaps something happier, since she is as free as it can get), without having to file for paperwork ever again.

Did Gale Cengage just liberate all of their public domain content? Sadly not…

Jonathan Gray - January 9, 2013 in Featured, Free Culture, Legal, Open Access, Open/Closed, Public Domain, WG Public Domain

Earlier today we received a strange and intriguing press release from a certain ‘Marmaduke Robida’ claiming to be ‘Director for Public Domain Content’ at Gale Cengage’s UK premises in Andover. Said the press release:

Gale, part of Cengage Learning, is thrilled to announce that all its public domain content will be freely accessible on the open web. “On this Public Domain Day, we are proud to have taken such a ground-breaking decision. As a common good, the Public Domain content we have digitized has to be accessible to everyone” said Marmaduke Robida, Director for Public Domain Content, Gale.

Hundreds of thousands of digitized books coming from some of the world’s most prestigious libraries and belonging to top-rated products highly appreciated by the academic community such as “Nineteenth Century Collection Online”, “Eighteenth Century Collection Online”, “Sabin America”, “Making of the Modern World” and two major digitized historical newspaper collections (The Times and the Illustrated London news) are now accessible from a dedicated websit. The other Gale digital collections will be progressively added to this web site throughout 2013 so all Public Domain content will be freely accessible by 2014. All the images are or will be available under the Public Domain Mark 1.0 license and can be reused for any purpose.

Gale’s global strategy is inspired by the recommandations issued by the European reflection group “Comite des sages” and the Public Domain manifesto. For Public Domain content, Gale decided to move to a freemium business model : all the content is freely accessible through basic tools (Public Domain Downloader, URL lists, …), but additional services are charged for. “We are confident that there still is a market for our products. Our state-of-art research platforms offer high quality services and added value which universities or research libraries are ready to pay for” said Robida.

A specific campaign targeted to national and academic libraries for promoting the usage of Public Domain Mark for digitized content will be launched in 2013. “We are ready to help the libraries that have a digitization programme fulfill their initial mission : make the knowledge accessible to everyone. We also hope that our competitors will follow the same way in the near future. Public Domain should not be enclosed by paywalls or dubious licensing terms” said Robida.

The press release linked to a website which proudly proclaimed:

All Public Domain content to be freely available online. Gale Digital Collections has changed the nature of research forever by providing a wealth of rare, formerly inaccessible historical content from the world’s most prestigious libraries. In january 2013, Gale has taken a ground-breaking decision and chosen to offer this content to all the academic community, and beyond to mankind, to which it belongs

This was met with astonishment by members of our public domain discussion list, many of whom suspected that the news might well be too good to be true. The somewhat mysterious, yet ever-helpful Marmaduke attempted to allay these concerns on the list, commenting:

I acknowledge this decision might seem a bit disorientating. As you may know, Gale is already familiar to give access freely to some of its content […], but for Public Domain content we have decided to move to the next degree by putting the content under the Public Domain Mark.

Several brave people had a go at testing out the so-called ‘Public Domain Downloader’ and said that it did indeed appear to provide access to digitised images of public domain texts – in spite of concerns in the Twittersphere that the software might well be malware (in case of any ambiguity, we certainly do not suggest that you try this at home!).

I quickly fired off an email to Cengage’s Director of Media and Public Relations to see if they had any comments. A few hours later a reply came back:

This is NOT an authorized Cengage Learning press release or website – our website appears to have been illegally cloned in violation of U.S. copyright and trademark laws. Our Legal department is in the process of trying to have the site taken down as a result. We saw that you made this information available via your listserv and realize that you may not have been aware of the validity of the site at the time, but ask that you now remove the post and/or alert the listserv subscribers to the fact that this is an illegal site and that any downloads would be in violation of copyright laws.

Sadly the reformed Gale Cengage – the Gale Cengage opposed to paywalls, restrictive licensing and clickwrap agreements on public domain material from public collections, the Gale Cengage supportive of the Public Domain Manifesto and dedicated to liberating of public domain content for everyone to enjoy – was just a hoax, a fantasm. At least this imaginary, illicit doppelgänger Gale gives a fleeting glimpse of a parallel world in which one of the biggest gatekeepers turned into one of the biggest liberators overnight. One can only hope that Gale Cengage and their staff might – in the midst of their legal wrangling – be inspired by this uncanny vision of the good public domain stewards that they could one day become. If only for a moment.

Season’s Greetings from the Open Knowledge Foundation!

Jonathan Gray - December 24, 2012 in Public Domain, Public Domain Review

To celebrate the season our Public Domain Review project has put together a digest of festive public domain images and texts – including a selection of Christmas diary entries, a pictorial history of Santa Claus, and a beautiful book of snowflake illustrations.

From all of us at the Open Knowledge Foundation, we wish you festive cheer, a peaceful break and a happy 2013.

The Public Domain Class of 2013

Adam Green - December 12, 2012 in Featured, Public Domain

This is a cross-post from The Public Domain Review, a project of the Open Knowledge Foundation.

Top Row (left to right): Stefan Zweig; Bronislaw Malinowski; Francis Younghusband
Middle Row (left to right): L.M. Montgomery; A.E.Waite; Edith Stein; Robert Musil
Bottom Row (left to right): Grant Wood; Bruno Schulz; Franz Boas; Eric Ravilious

Pictured above is The Public Domain Review‘s top pick of artists and writers whose works will, on 1st January 2013, be entering the public domain in those countries with a ‘life plus 70 years’ copyright term (e.g. most European Union members, Brazil, Israel, Nigeria, Russia, Turkey, etc.). An eclectic bunch have assembled for our graduation photo – including the two founding fathers of anthropology from different sides of the Atlantic, an Army officer turned “premature hippy”, the painter of one of America’s most iconic images, and a canonised Catholic saint who studied with Martin Heidegger. The unifying factor bringing them all together is that all died in the year of 1942, many sadly as a result, directly or indirectly, of the Second World War.

Below is a little bit more about each of their lives (with each name linking through to their respective Wikipedia pages, if you would like to find out more). In the new year, when their works shall enter the public domain, links to works shall be included on the original Public Domain Review post.


Bruno Schulz (July 12th 1892 – November 19th 1942) was a Polish writer and artist most famous for his collection of short stories The Street of Crocodiles (1934) which centre on a merchant family from a small town in the Galician region. The book, with its inventive and unique use of metaphor, helped establish Schulz’s reputation as one of the great Polish-language writers of the 20th century. He led a relatvively solitary life, teaching drawing in a Polish school in his hometown of Drohobych from 1924 to 1941. Following the Nazi invasion during the Second World War, being Jewish, Schulz was forced to live in a ghetto but for a while was protected by a Nazi Gestapo officer named Felix Landau who was an admirer of his artwork. During the last weeks of his life, Schulz painted a mural in Landau’s home in Drohobych. Shortly after completing the work, Schulz was walking home through the “Aryan quarter” with a loaf of bread when he was shot and killed by another Gestapo officer, Karl Günther, a rival of Landau’s. Subsequently, Schulz’s mural was painted over and forgotten until its discovery by a German documentary film crew in 2001. At the time of his death Schulz was working on a novel called The Messiah which has subsequently been lost.


Robert Musil (November 6th 1880 – April 15th 1942) was an Austrian writer whose huge tome of an unfinished novel The Man Without Qualities is generally considered to be one of the most important modernist novels. The story, set in Vienna on the eve of World War 1, deals with the moral and intellectual decline of the Austro-Hungarian empire through the eyes of the book’s hero Ulrich, a former mathematician who has failed to engage with the world around him in such a manner that would allow him to possess ‘qualities’. In 1932 Musil’s contemporary Thomas Mann (who had set up the Robert Musil Society that same year), when asked to name an eminent contemporary novel, cited exclusively The Man Without Qualities. Despite this support from high literary circles Musil’s work was far from gaining mass popular appeal in his lifetime. Indeed after his death from a stroke in 1942, incurred while he was on the run from the Nazis with his Jewish wife Martha, his work was largely forgotten in the German speaking world and it was not until the 1950s that it began to garner attention once more. The first translation of The Man Without Qualities in English was published in 1953, 1954 and 1960 – with an updated translation, included previously unpublished drafts, was published in 1995. More recently the philosophical aspect of his writing has come under the spotlight with the philosophy journal The Monist seeking submissions for a special issue on “The Philosophy of Robert Musil” to be published in January 2014.


Franz Boas (July 9th 1858 – December 21st 1942) was a German-American pioneer of modern anthropology and has been called the “Father of American Anthropology”. With his emphasis on research first, followed later by generalizations, a methodology patterned after the natural sciences, Boas went against the British school of “armchair anthropologists” who tended to only do fieldwork to prove or disprove grand generalisations already made. In the early 20th century he would establish anthropology as a discipline in its own right, one orientated around two basic questions: “Why are the tribes and nations of the world different, and how have the present differences developed?” He was pivotal in moving the study of cultures away from racist assumptions surrounding forming a hierarchy of “civilizations” toward a more relativistic approach. In his 1963 book, Race: The History of an Idea in America, Thomas Gossett wrote that “It is possible that Boas did more to combat race prejudice than any other person in history.” He died of a stroke at the Columbia University Faculty Club on December 21, 1942 in the arms of fellow anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss.


Bronisław Malinowski (April 7th 1884 – 16 May 1942), a Polish born British-naturalised citizen, was one of the most important anthropologists of the 20th-century. In 1910, at the age of 26 he moved to England to study exchange and economics at the London School of Economics, analysing patterns of exchange in aboriginal Australia through ethnographic documents. In 1914 he made an expedition to the South Pacific region but was forbidden to return to England as, after the outbreak of WW1, he was considered an enemy of the British commonwealth. The Australian government did, however, allow him to study the locals in Melanesia where he conducted research on the Trobriand people of Papua – the foundations for his groundbreaking ethnography Argonauts of the Western Pacific which he would write in after his return to England following the end of the war. Finally published in 1922 the work which established him as one of the most important anthropologists in Europe of that time. The ethnography described the complex institution of the Kula ring, and became foundational for subsequent theories of reciprocity and exchange. Like his American counterpart Franz Boas, Malinowksi is credited with being the first to bring anthropology “off the verandah”, that is, experiencing the everyday life of his subjects along with them. Malinowski emphasized the importance of detailed participant observation and argued that anthropologists must have daily contact with their informants if they are to adequately record the “imponderabilia of everyday life” that are so important to understanding a different culture. He emphasised that the goal of the anthropologist, or ethnographer, is “to grasp the native’s point of view, his relation to life, to realize his vision of his world”.


Grant Wood (February 13th 1891 – February 12th 1942) was an American painter from Iowa best known for his paintings depicting the rural American Midwest. His most famous work is American Gothic, considered by many to be one of the iconic images of the 20th century. The painting depicts a stern but calm man holding a pitchfork (modelled by Wood’s dentist) and a younger woman, the man’s spinster daughter (modelled by Wood’s sister), stood in front of an unusual house – the classic wooden American farmhouse but with an arch-shaped window reminiscent of a more European Gothic architecture. The painting became popular after it won third prize at big competition at the Art Institute of Chicago. In the guise of many different interpretations the painting went on to capture the imagination of the American public, at the time going through the Great Depression.


Stefan Zweig (November 28th 1881 – February 22th 1942) was an Austrian writer who at the height of his literary career in the 1920s and 30s could lay claim to being one the most famous writers in the world – extremely popular in the USA, South America and Europe, though not so much in Britain. He mixed with the intelligentsia of his time, befriending Sigmund Freud, Arthur Schnitzler, and being a particular favourite of the composer Richard Strauss, for he who’s The Silent Woman he wrote the libretto. Zweig’s style as a writer was simple and easy – his plaudits emphasising its humanity and grace, his critics (mostly in Britain) seeing it as effected and pedestrian. He is best known for his novellas such as, The Royal Game, Amok, Letter from an Unknown Woman); his novels such as, Beware of Pity, Confusion of Feelings, and the posthumously published The Post Office Girl and his biographies, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Conqueror of the Seas: The Story of Magellan, Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles and also posthumously published, Balzac. Being Jewish he spent the 30s in exile from the encroachment of the Nazi regime, first to England and then in 1940 to America, a flight which he recounts in his autobiographical The World of Yesterday. On February 23rd 1942 he and his wife were found dead of a barbiturate overdose in their house in the Brazilian city of Petrópolis, holding hands. In despair over the destruction of his beloved Europe he and his wife had taken their own lives. In a suicide note he wrote: “I think it better to conclude in good time and in erect bearing a life in which intellectual labour meant the purest joy and personal freedom the highest good on Earth. I send greetings to all of my friends: May they live to see the dawn after this long night. I, who am most impatient, go before them.”


Edith Stein (October 12th 1891 – August 9th 1942) – also known as Saint Teresia Benedicta of the Cross, informally also known as Saint Edith Stein – was a German Roman Catholic philosopher and nun, regarded as a martyr and saint of the Roman Catholic Church. She was born into an observant Jewish family but by her teenage years was an atheist. At the age of 24, after receiving a doctorate of philosophy from the University of Göttingen with a dissertation under Edmund Husserl, On the Problem of Empathy, she worked as an assistant to Husserl alongside a certain Martin Heidegger. During her summer holidays in Bergzabern in 1921 Stein read the autobiography of the mystic St. Teresa of Ávila and she was subsequently converted to Roman Catholicsm. She became baptised in 1922 and gave up her assistantship with Husserl to teach at the Dominican nuns’ schools school in Speyer from 1923 to 1931. While there, she translated Thomas Aquinas’ De Veritate. In 1932 she became a lecturer at the Institute for Pedagogy at Münster, but antisemitic legislation passed by the Nazi government forced her to resign the post in 1933. She went to a monastery in Cologne where she wrote Finite and Eternal Being which tries to combine the philosophies of Aquinas and Husserl. To avoid the growing Nazi threat she was transferred to the Netherlands where she wrote The Science of the Cross: Studies on John of the Cross. In 1942, following a new decree to round up all previously spared converts from Judaism, Stein and her sister Rosa, also a convert, were captured and shipped to the Auschwitz concentration camp where they are presumed to have been gassed on August 9th 1942.


Arthur Edward Waite (October 2nd 1857 – May 19th 1942) was a scholarly mystic who wrote extensively on occult and esoteric matters, and co-created the widely used Rider-Waite Tarot deck. He was a prolific author with many of his works being well received in academic circles. He wrote occult texts on subjects including divination, esotericism, Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, and ceremonial magic, Kabbalism and alchemy; he also translated and reissued several important mystical and alchemical works. A number of his volumes remain in print, The Book of Ceremonial Magic (1911), The Holy Kabbalah (1929), A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry (1921), and his edited translation of Eliphas Levi’s Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual (1896). Waite is perhaps best known as the co-creator of the popular and widely used Rider-Waite Tarot deck and author of its companion volume, the Key to the Tarot, republished in expanded form the following year, 1911, as the Pictorial Key to the Tarot, a guide to Tarot reading.


Sir Francis Younghusband (May 31st 1863 – July 31st 1942) was a British Army officer, explorer, and spiritual writer. He is remembered chiefly for his travels in the Far East and Central Asia; especially the 1904 British expedition to Tibet, which he led, during which a massacre of Tibetans occurred. It was on the retreat from this disastrous mission while in the moutains that he had a mystical revelation which suffused him with “love for the whole world” and convinced him that “men at heart are divine.” This conviction led him to regret his invasion of Tibet, and eventually, in 1936, to found the World Congress of Faiths (in imitation of the World Parliament of Religions). He went on to pen a number of fantasictally titled books including Mother World (in Travail for the Christ that is to be) (1924), and Life in the Stars: An Exposition of the View that on some Planets of some Stars exist Beings higher than Ourselves, and on one a World-Leader, the Supreme Embodiment of the Eternal Spirit which animates the Whole (1927). This last was particularly admired by Lord Baden-Powell, the Boy Scouts founder. Key concepts include what would come to be known as the Gaia hypothesis, pantheism, and a Christlike “world leader” living on the planet “Altair” (or “Stellair”), who radiates spiritual guidance by means of telepathy. Younghusband also played a key role in the first ascent of Mount Everest, being elected President of the Royal Geographical Society in 1919, and two years later became Chairman of the Mount Everest Committee which was set up to coordinate the initial 1921 British Reconnaissance Expedition to Mount Everest.


Eric Ravilious (July 22nd 1903 – September 2nd 1942) was an English artist from the county of Sussex reknowned for his watercolours of the South Downs. Apart from a brief experimentation with oils in 1930 – inspired by the works of Johan Zoffany – Ravilious painted almost entirely in watercolour. He was especially inspired by the landscape of the South Downs around Beddingham. He frequently returned to Furlongs, the cottage of Peggy Angus, where some of his most famous works were carried out, such as Tea at Furlongs. As well as watercolours, Ravillous engraved more than four hundred illustrations and drew over forty lithographic designs for books and publications during his lifetime for large publishing houses such as Jonathan Cape, Lanston Corporation and smaller, less commercial publishers, such as the Golden Cockerel Press, the Curwen Press and the Cresset Press. His woodcut of two Victorian gentlemen playing cricket has appeared on the front cover of every edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack since 1938. In 1936 Ravilious was invited by Wedgwood to make designs for ceramics. His work for them included a commemorative mug to mark the coronation of Edward VIII, the “Boat Race” bowl and the “Garden” series of plates, in which each size of plate showed a diffferent plant. In 1940 Ravilious was appointed an official war artist, with the rank of Honorary Captain in the Royal Marines. During that year he painted at the Royal Naval Barracks at Chatham and Sheerness; sailed to Norway and the Arctic on board HMS Highlander, which was carrying out escort duties, and painted submarines at Gosport and coastal defences at Newlyn. In August of 1942 he was transferred to Iceland, where he was killed accompanying a Royal Air Force air sea rescue mission that failed to return to its base.


Lucy Maud Montgomery (November 30th 1874 – April 24th 1942), called “Maud” by family and friends and publicly known as L. M. Montgomery, was a Canadian author best known for a series of novels beginning with Anne of Green Gables, published in 1908. The central character, Anne, an orphaned girl, made Montgomery famous in her lifetime and gave her an international following. Mark Twain said Montgomery’s Anne was “the dearest and most moving and delightful child since the immortal Alice”. She went on to publish 20 novels (8 of which were in the Anne of Green Gables series) as well as more than 500 short stories, an autobiography, and a book of poetry. She was honoured by being the first female in Canada to be named a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in England and by being invested in the Order of the British Empire in 1935. After struggling with looking after her mentally ill husband for many years in their home “Journey’s End” in Ontario, she died in 1942 in a suspected suicide.

And a few others that didn’t make it to the class photo….


Edward Irenaeus Prime-Stevenson (Xavier Mayne)

Dorothy Wall

Charles Henry Chomley

Caroline Frances Eleanor Spurgeon

Violet Hunt

Ernest Bramah

Roberto Arlt

Walter Sickert

To learn more about Public Domain Day visit Here you can discover what celebratory events might be planned in your area and peruse an in-progress ‘public domain in 2013’ list. If there are some names you would like to add then please do so on this spreadsheet.

You can also keep up to date with issues involving the public domain on the OKFN’s “public domain discuss list” – sign up here.

For more names whose works will be going into the public domain in 2013 see the Wikipedia page on 1942 deaths and also a list being compiled here. Adrian Pohl has also put together this excellent list.

We also came across this great public domain advent calendar project (in French).

See the “Class of 2013” post in all its original full page width glory over at The Public Domain Review.

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