Jo pointed me at this recent email about progress by Kragen Sitaker on scanning the first edition of the OED (from looking at the front pages it looks like this copy has come from Harvard University library).

Currently he’s up to volume 6 (L,M,N) and has also produced a nice web interface to let you browse and search through the scans. He’s also encountered the usual copyright questions but the first-edition OED does seem to be safely pre-1923 (and therefore public domain in the US) though some lingering doubts remain about the last fasicles (W in particular).

As detailed in his original email the aim of this is not only to make the OED available but also to allow for future development in an open fashion. This approach is particularly suitable for the OED not only because dictionaries granular character naturally lend themselves to incremental, decentralized working methods suited to open knowledge development but because the OED was itself initially developed in a fairly communal way with thousands of people from around the world contributing snippets to a team based in Oxford.

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Rufus Pollock is Founder and President of Open Knowledge.

2 thoughts on “Open version of the OED”

  1. Thanks for the mention! To clarify, the volume 5 that the Internet Archive kindly scanned first did indeed come from Harvard, but the full first edition I’m working on scanning now came from College of the Pacific, now Pacific State University.

    The copyright status is very complex indeed, and less may be in the public domain worldwide than I thought — and more may be in the public domain in the US at the moment. Certainly parts of it were published after 1923. I still need to spend more time investigating those issues, but I can say with some certainty that everything up through N is in the public domain in the US.

    I want to emphasize the important role the Internet Archive has played in this process: they’ve been kind enough to let me use their equipment and even donate some of the scanning labor gratis, they’ve been very helpful and responsive when I’ve encountered bugs in the software, and they’re currently hosting the downloadable online copies of the dictionary volumes that have been scanned in full so far.

  2. Kragen, great to hear from you. I’d love to know more about the copyright situation. I assume that the OED comes under work-for-hire terms rather than the assembled copyrights of individual contributor/authors. If that is the case terms are shorter here (in Europe) than they are in the States (for ‘normal’ authorial copyright term is the same in both i.e. life+70). We’d then be in a situation much like that with recordings where it was legal to make works available here in Europe but not in the US.

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