Archive for the ‘public domain’ Category

Cameras in the U.S. Supreme Court Closer to Reality

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Front of U.S. Supreme Court building with dramatic lightingPhoto by me.

Arthur Bright has a nice post at Citizen Media Law Blog on the good news that the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11 to 7 to require the U.S. Supreme Court to allow television cameras into hearings.

The bill that has been approved in committee, S.B. 1945, provides:

The Supreme Court shall permit television coverage of all open sessions of the Court unless the Court decides, by a vote of the majority of justices, that allowing such coverage in a particular case would constitute a violation of the due process rights of 1 or more of the parties before the Court.

We’ll see if the bill becomes law. And if it does, the U.S. Supreme Court could always, of course, strike it down (making for a fun new case for your Federal Courts textbook). But it’s a great step in the right direction for open government and media freedom.

My concern going forward, if cameras are allowed into SCOTUS, is that everyone will have equal access to the footage. If the networks put their own cameras in and produce copyrighted footage, that won’t be a boon to bloggers and citizen journalists. The best implementation would be for the court to do its own television feed, which, as a federal government work, would be copyright-free.

And, of course, there’d be fewer cords to trip over …

The CIA: Copyrightless Image Agency

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow
(Photo: CIA)


Here’s a tip on how to get copyright-free images to use to illustrate your blog posts: The CIA World Factbook. It’s a public domain set of images, maps, and text about the countries of the world, courtesy of America’s spooks.

I’ve used CIA World Factbook images on this blog to illustrate posts about Peru and Ireland.

There’s more background by me on Pixelization.

Masnick Reflects on Public Domain Day

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

techdirt logoFurther to our discussion of the public domain – mostly relevant to bloggers as a source of free images – Mike Masnick of TechDirt reflects on Public Domain Day, as other nations receive new content into the public domain, and once again, nothing in the U.S. becomes free of copyright restrictions.

The Public Domain Enhancement Act

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Finding pictures and other raw media to enhance a blog can be frustrating – if, that is, you are staying clear of copyright infringement. Of course it would be  much easier to find great images for free and legal use if there were more material in the public domain.

A bill that attempted to get that done was the Public Domain Enhancement Act, introduced in the House of Representatives in 2003 as H.R.2601. It would have required the payment of a $1 maintenance fee on copyrighted works older than 50 years.

That’s not a big out of pocket expense. But by requiring some slight affirmative act by people wishing to maintain their copyright, the law would have caused a slew of works to enter the public domain in cases where the creators didn’t care about retaining the copyright.

Unfortunately, cheap-skates they are, the entertainment lobby defeated the bill.

But maybe in the future? Who knows. It would be nice.

You can read more about it from Larry Lessig (who called it the Eric Eldred Act) and Wikipedia.

When Do Works Enter the Public Domain?

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Copyright protection, under the U.S. Constitution, only lasts for “limited times.” That means eventually (at least theoretically) all copyrighted works, including photos that can be incorporated into a blog post, will enter the public domain at some point in the future.

So how old does a work have to be to enter the public domain?

Well, it’s complicated. You are generally safe assuming something is in the public domain if it was published in 1922 or before. (The hazy legal world of apparent exceptions are discussed here and here.)

Does that mean that next year works from 1923 will enter the public domain?

Unfortuntately, no. The reason why is that Congress has been, for decades now, regularly extending copyright terms at the bidding of the entertainment industry. The latest special-interest windfall was the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (text, summary). Because of this most recent extension legislation, the public domain is stuck at 1922 and will be for quite a while.

The public domain won’t grow again because of copyright expiration until 2019 – unless Congress extends the copyright term again. And you can bet that special interests are lined up to lobby for that extension when the time comes.

Since Disney lobbied hard for its passage, the Sonny Bono Act was dubbed the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” by some. Without the law, Mickey Mouse’s original cartoon short films would have entered the public domain by now.

But note that, because of sloppy work done in Disney’s early days, people who have looked at the matter closely (here and here) have concluded that the original Mickey Mouse and the motion picture Steamboat Willie (in which Mickey made one of his first appearances) are no longer the subject of a valid copyright. The public domain status of Mickey Mouse remains untested in court. People tend to be very afraid of Disney lawyers. I can’t imagine why.

What’s in the Public Domain?

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

If something is in the public domain – such as text or an image – that means you can use it on your blog without being liable for copyright infringement. But how do you know if something is in the public domain?

Contrary to widespread myth, something is not in the public domain if it is on the web!

It is actually quite unusual for things to end up in the public domain. Under our modern system of intellectual property law, copyright is the rule, and the public domain is the exception.

Generally there are four ways works can end up in the public domain: (1) Expiration: Something can be too old, so that its copyright has expired. (2) Abandonment: For really old works, there may be a lack of proper copyright notice or a foregone renewal which has the effect of transferring the work into the public domain. (3) Federal government: If it was originally authored by the federal government, then it is born in the public domain. (4) Donation: Sometimes people purposefully donate their copyrighted work into the public domain.

There’s a great website, Public Domain Sherpa, that can help you try to figure out if a particular work is in the public domain. It’s worth checking out.

Cooks Source Reprints Webpage as Magazine Article Without Permission

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Web-author and blogger Monica Gaudio did some freelance work for Cooks Source magazine – unwittingly.

While the Las Vegas Review Journal and Righthaven continue to be hotly indignant about bloggers reposting content from newspapers, the print trade is nabbing content from bloggers, and being kindof snotty about it.

Gaudio’s write-up of apple tarts, which appeared on her online cookbook of medieval cooking, was reprinted on page 10 of Cooks Source’s latest issue. Cooks Source never got – or even sought – permission.

Now unlike thugsters LVRJ and Righthaven, Gaudio was nice about it. Assuming the best of intentions, she let the editor know that the article was used without her permission, and she asked for an apology and a $130 donation to the Columbia School of Journalism.

What civility.

Astoundingly, this is the response she got from editor Judith Griggs. It’s just a jaw dropper:

Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was “my bad” indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.
But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!

Just so we are clear, despite Griggs’s assertion that she knows about copyright law, the web is certainly not considered public domain. Well, maybe by Griggs, but not by the law. Not at all.

I think it was stellar of Gaudio to offer the $130 make-good. But now that she’s been responded to with outright rudeness, I think she should up her figure. My thought is $5,000 for a retroactive license / settlement. That’s a high-end payment for freelance work, and it’s in the neighborhood of Righthaven settlements. So that seems like a good number to me. And Monica, keep that money for yourself. The one thing Griggs is probably right about is that CSJ is doing alright for itself. Not that even well-to-do institutions of higher learning don’t deserve donations, but you oughtta feel free to hold on to anything that comes your way out of this.

In the meantime, Monica: Register that apple pie article with the Copyright Office! If your reference point is 14th Century cooking, copyright registration is even easier than apple pie.

If it’s been less than three months since you published it, you are still in a position to file for registration and get eligible for attorney’s fees and statutory damages. If too much time has passed, you can still threaten them with actual damages. There’s also the possibility of  an injunction and an order of impoundment and destruction, which, while not really a problem for online publications that can change their content at will, is potentially more of a pain for print publications.

More: Lance Whitney on CNET: Lifting of blogger’s story triggers online furor