Posts Tagged ‘public domain’

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.

Laws Bloggers Can Be Thankful For

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

Photo of pumpkin pie by Peggy Greb of the USDA Agricultural Research ServiceHappy Thanksgiving to bloggers everywhere!

Here are some laws and legal concepts bloggers can be thankful for.

Public domain photograph of pumpkin pie by Peggy Greb, USDA Agricultural Research Service.

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

Using the Public Domain for Images for Blogs

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

1894 photograph of trainBlogs look better with images. Bloggers who want to use images have six options, as I see it: (1) Use their own images, (2) Get permission to use someone else’s, (3) Purchase royalty-free images for use, (4) Use images that have no copyright protection, (5) Use copyrighted images in a manner that is protected as fair use, or (6) Incur civil or criminal liability by infringing copyright.

My guess is that most bloggers choose no. 5 or no. 6. Often, bloggers unwittingly choose no. 6 (infringement), hoping that they have actually selected no. 5 (fair use).

I don’t want to discourage people from exercising their fair use rights, but more bloggers should be aware of and make active use of choice no. 4 (the public domain).

To use public domain images, you’ll need a source of them. A good starting point is this list from wikipedia. You also should learn something about how the public domain works. You can’t necessarily take wikipedia’s word for it that an image is in the public domain. Wikipedia’s legal counsel is sometimes a little wonky. So learn something about the law of the public domain. A good source is Public Domain Sherpa – a wonderful site that can help you determine whether an image is in the public domain or not.

Since I did mention that blogs look better with images. I realized I had better include one. The above image, from the Library of Congress’s American Memory collection, is a 1894 photograph of a train on the Italian Line between Tunis and the site of ancient Carthage, photographed leaving Marsa. Photographer: William Henry Jackson.