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Greg Bear, Others Cry Foul on Project Gutenberg Copyright Call 721

Nova Express writes "Recently a lot of science fiction stories from the 1950s and 60s (including work from still-living authors like Frederik Pohl and Jack Vance) have been showing up on Project Gutenberg as being in the public domain. However, according to science fiction writer Greg Bear and his wife Astrid Anderson Bear (daughter of Poul Anderson, some of whose works were among those put up), Project Gutenberg has made a mistake: 'After conducting legal research on the LEXIS database of legal cases, decisions, and precedents, we have demonstrated conclusively that PG was making incorrect determinations regarding public domain status in many, many works that originally appeared in magazine form ... In general, Project Gutenberg is doing a tremendous service by making available texts that have truly long since fallen out of copyright, but they are clearly overstepping their original mandate. They are not merely exploiting orphan works, but practicing a wholesale kidnapping of works that are under copyright protection.'"
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Greg Bear, Others Cry Foul on Project Gutenberg Copyright Call

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  • by IICV ( 652597 ) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @11:57PM (#34399884)

    Wholesale kidnapping?

    Who, exactly, is "kidnapping" the stories in this case? The people who are putting them in a publicly accessible format so that everyone can look at them, or the people who are keeping them behind an iron wall of intellectual property?

    I was under the impression that it was the people doing the imprisoning that were generally the kidnappers, not the people granting freedom. Silly me.

    • by OglinTatas ( 710589 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @12:26AM (#34400118)

      new terminology:
      music movies - piracy
      texts - kidnapping
      releasing your own copyrighted material to creative commons or public domain - terrorism

      leave it to writers to be creative with language.

      That said, if it is not public domain or PG does not control the copyrights, they should remove the material. Leave the wholesale piracy - er, kidnapping - to google books.

    • by Doctor_Jest ( 688315 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @12:57AM (#34400376)
      Indeed. It's a bit much to say the least. I stopped caring about the idea when the original complaint contained "authors and estates"... I have been, and always will be, against anyone other than the original human creator getting any control over the copyright.

      I mean, we all know copyright doesn't guarantee revenue. So what is the big malfunction with PG taking long-dead (used books possibly) stories and making them available to a new audience. And since the author/estate doesn't get any royalties for used book sales, their "kidnapping" argument is more specious than usual. At least they didn't say "stealing".....
    • by Bill_the_Engineer ( 772575 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @10:16AM (#34403626)

      Yes lets focus on the hyperbole.

      Instead of looking at the facts that PG may be violating some copyright, lets battle over the use of words and throw in a "granting freedom" BS while we're at it.

      I'm interested in how PG will handle this. They may have documentation showing that the magazines granted them permission to republish their works. More likely they discovered that the magazine no longer exists, and the magazine is no longer capable of making copyright claims.

      It's up to the authors to prove that they didn't turn over copyright ownership to the magazine. Personally, I think the authors should thank PG for bringing their work back from the dead.

  • by Chordonblue ( 585047 ) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @11:58PM (#34399894) Journal

    Is this all about semantics? I mean, Project G is very clear about this: If a copyright holder makes a claim, they take the material down. I would think putting this stuff out there, rather than letting it rot is hardly a disservice to the authors/publishers.

    • by swillden ( 191260 ) <> on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @12:26AM (#34400130) Homepage Journal

      Is this all about semantics? I mean, Project G is very clear about this: If a copyright holder makes a claim, they take the material down. I would think putting this stuff out there, rather than letting it rot is hardly a disservice to the authors/publishers.

      Based on Baen publishing's experience, making electronic copies freely available will likely rouse enough interest in these old works that whoever owns the copyrights will probably be able to make some money on a new printing. It's a little counter-intuitive, but Baen says the effect is quite consistent and reliable.

  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @11:59PM (#34399904)

    They should be in the public domain.

    Works that are not in active circulation will likely be forgotten and effectively lost to the world if they are not allowed to transition into the public domain in a timely fashion.

    Copyright needs reformation.

    • by b4upoo ( 166390 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @12:05AM (#34399946)

      Particularly music is lost to the world. It is not as if one has an alternative and can go and buy the music or the novel. Try finding Jazz from the dawn of the twentieth century. If you are lucky enough to find it at all it is likely a crudely put up version that is almost useless. And I'm talking about scores not finished music.

    • by zach_the_lizard ( 1317619 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @12:09AM (#34399992)
      But, but, my great-grandchildren will be stolen from if copyright is less than life + 99 years!
    • by Ankh ( 19084 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @12:15AM (#34400038) Homepage

      "should" - either take it up with your representative (congress if you're in the US) or be aware that civil disobedience carries penalties.

      At least some of these works are in fact in circulation, by the way. See the original article; there are stories that were first published in magazines and then in books.

      60 years isn't actually very long as copyright laws go (sadly) - when I'm researching images or my Web site, [], I frequently find images over 100 years old that are still in copyright. Sometimes even older.

      As for "lost to the world," well, I agree, but note that there are "dark archives" (e.g. at the Library of Congress in the USA) where items are held until such time as copyright expires.

      A difficulty with copyright law is that it's the publishers who make the money, and hence have the most representation at governmental levels. I'd guess that with wider representatoin, copyright terms could be simplified and shortened. However, in the US, you also have to remember the Disney Laws. Protectionism and corruption.

    • by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @12:37AM (#34400224)

      Here's my proposal:

      Movies, books, TV shows, video games, etc.: 10 years from first publication. No extensions, although a "new and improved version" rerelease is copyrighted separately. This puts plenty into the public domain: Star Trek up to Insurrection, the classic James Bond films, the first few Super Mario Bros. games, and so on. However, it also provides plenty of time to make a profit, and even when something enters the public domain, some people will still buy it (see The Lord of the Rings, the original printing of which is PD in the US due to an oversight)

      Genuine inventions: Patent lasts 10 years. Extension can lengthen it by another decade if you are actively using the patent in a product. This cuts down on patent trolls, but otherwise keeps the system as-is.

      Software/Method patents: Six months. This is mostly to make it easier to strike down the 20-year patents: it's less of a jump to say "this was patented in the wrong category, and as it has been X years since registration, the patent is no longer valid" than it is to say "this thing should never have been patentable".

      Trademarks: Pretty much as now, although I'd make protection of parodies much more explicit

      "Casual infringement": If you "steal" something from a P2P site, the most you can be liable for is the most common trade price of the thing, and the prosecution is responsible for court costs. This would make it pointless to sue people for downloading a few albums, but it would still be possible to sue massive-scale "pirates" or even people running torrent sites if they're advertising "pirated" material.

  • by ooooli ( 1496283 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @12:00AM (#34399908)
    Wow, sounds almost as bad as piracy... If they really think PG is doing a "tremendous service" then what's the deal with the loaded language?
  • Unwise move (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @12:06AM (#34399960)

    This is an extremely unwise move for Project Gutenberg. While I am certainly opposed to the overly-long copyright terms we have today, and somewhat sympathetic to testing the boundaries of the often unclear copyright status of some works, PG is not the group to do it. They are nowhere near funded well enough to risk a legal confrontation with the major publishing houses or their star authors, and by taking that risk, they are endangering the good and unambiguously legal work they have been doing for so many years.

    I don't know Greg Bear personally, but I am familiar with his position on copyrights generally, and he has always seemed to me to be one of the more reasonable authors in this area. Even if he's wrong on this point, Project Gutenberg should leave the grey areas for better-suited groups to explore. While it is deplorable that it is often prohibitively expensive to secure justice in the courts even when one is entirely in the right, that's the reality PG has to deal with if it wants to venture into this area, and it should not be done carelessly.

    • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @12:24AM (#34400100) Journal

      I don't know Greg Bear personally

      And I don't know Poul Anderson's daughter, but the idea of progeny of famous people trying to live off their parents' work is distasteful to me.

      Anyway, I've decided arbitrarily to make 15 years the point at which a work becomes public domain and I intend to act accordingly. The only thing to do when laws are out of whack is to act as if they are not.

      • And I don't know Poul Anderson's daughter, but the idea of progeny of famous people trying to live off their parents' work is distasteful to me.

        I don't know Astrid either, but I do know Poul's widow, editor and co-author, Karen Anderson. If anybody's profiting from Poul's work at this time, it's Karen, not Astrid. I do hope you don't object to that.

        • Re:Unwise move (Score:4, Interesting)

          by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @01:04AM (#34400448) Journal

          Apparently the new logic is that kids are to be cut loose, that you're not supposed to leave anything for them, but rather give 'em the boot, and anything you've saved or produced should not benefit them at all.

          I'm all for copyright reform, but this idea that authors are somehow different than anyone else in that their literary works, while still under copyright, shouldn't be part of their estate seems ridiculous to me.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by swillden ( 191260 )

            I'm all for copyright reform, but this idea that authors are somehow different than anyone else in that their literary works, while still under copyright, shouldn't be part of their estate seems ridiculous to me.

            What do you mean "different than anyone else"? If I'm a plumber, should the pipes I install somehow continue generating revenue for my kids after I've stopped installing them? I can pass on the money I've made without any need for some sort of perpetual revenue stream, and so can authors.

          • Re:Unwise move (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @02:46AM (#34401108)

            Apparently the new logic is that kids are to be cut loose, that you're not supposed to leave anything for them, but rather give 'em the boot, and anything you've saved or produced should not benefit them at all.

            Actually, that's pretty old logic at this point. The idea is to avoid having a permanent hereditary aristocracy and to require people to achieve success (or not) through their own merits and achievements.

            That's really neither here nor there where copyright is concerned. The original goal of the American copyright system (as opposed to the British, which was government control of the press) was to encourage authors to produce more work by giving them a temporary monopoly. Since dead authors are incapable of producing more work, the purpose of the law is not served if their copyrights survive them.

            That said, I have no objection to striking a balance between the interests of the public domain and the author's dependents, if he/she had any, by allowing the copyrights to endure a little beyond the lifetime of the author, but seventy years is absurd.

          • Your logic that copyright should last long enough to inherit is ridiculous to me, 'cause Mister Anderson is not likely to rise from the grave an write more, so the value of his copyright "to encourage" him is somewhat limited.

            Why should any single act of creativity or performance be rewarded with more than a reasonable wage for the effort exerted.

            The fact is that normal people can leave behind what they have saved or produced, provided they _save_ some of it. But that's just for us proles apparently. Someho

    • by akahige ( 622549 )
      About 12 years ago, I contacted PG because I was doing some work with pulp stories from the '30's that were public domain, and would have been great to get on the site. While they were a really flaky outfit to deal with, they did have a number of paranoid copyright attorneys at the top of the structure that carefully vetted anything that was even proposed to be included on the site. There must be some kind of story behind how these sci-fi stories managed to bypass that process. The instance cited in the a
  • Server location (Score:5, Informative)

    by igreaterthanu ( 1942456 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @12:07AM (#34399972)
    Why don't they host their servers in a country with more reasonable copyright laws? Specifically with regard to copyright duration. Australia and New Zealand have much more reasonable copyright durations than the US. IIRC 50 years instead of almost double that.
    • Re:Server location (Score:5, Informative)

      by Ankh ( 19084 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @12:23AM (#34400084) Homepage

      Since the works in question were first published in the US, by American citizens, the US terms would still apply even if the servers were in New Zealand or Australia. Those countries have copyright agreements with the USA.

      Works published jointly in more than one country (jointly usually means within 30 days) usually get the "shortest term" of any of the countries involved, but that's only for works published in multiple counties. Works published (even on the Web) without the permission of the copyright owner do not get a reduced copyright.

      In practice, you can often get away with republishing woks because it's too expensive to take legal action, and because you get into an area of law called Conflict of Laws, which is one of the hardest and most expensive areas of law. However, simply moving the servers to another Berne Convention country wouldn't actually help PG very much.

      In the past, the US has not tended to honour the copyright agreeents of other counties, but of late that has been changing.

      Canada (where I live) also has life + 50 years instead of life + 70 years; it's not actuallyhalf of the US term, though. If you publish a work when you're 20 and you live to be 100, the work gets (100 -20 + 70) = 150 years of protection in the US, and 130 years in Canada.

      Personally (and I'm speakingas a published author here too) I'd like a return to 20 or 30 years after publication, with no renewals, But Im not a film or music distribution company, of course!

  • by whisper_jeff ( 680366 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @12:12AM (#34400020)

    They are not merely exploiting orphan works, but practicing a wholesale kidnapping...

    Wow. Hyperbole much?

    Seriously, that little tirade is just shy of "won't someone think of the children"...

    I have troubles taking any point seriously, regardless of how valid I think it may or may not be, when it's attached to gross, blatant hyperbole of this sort. Make your point in an intelligent manner and people will respond. Make it sound like the sky is falling and doom is eminent and you'll quickly be ignored.

  • tempest in a teacup (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @12:15AM (#34400040)

    "The error occurred because we did not know that Brainwave was a
    complete publication of the serial parts of The Escape. We did know
    from the publication of The Escape in 1953 that it was the first part
    of a serialization, but did not know that Brainwave, from 1954, was
    the title of the complete serialization."

  • by Paul Carver ( 4555 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @12:24AM (#34400108)

    The theft of the public domain by companies and politicians is the true criminal act.

    I hope Project Gutenberg adheres to the letter of the law but doesn't give an inch of generosity to grey areas.

    Personally I don't see why the author's death should figure into it at all. A couple of decades from publication to public domain is plenty. If you don't want your thoughts and ideas to enter the public domain then keep them to yourself.

    A decade or three of exclusivity is a reasonable incentive to create. Carving out chunks of language and idea space for your own exclusive ownership practically forever is not.

    Our shared cultural heritage is far more important that someone's "right" to continue profiting from work they or their ancestors did half a century ago. And if no one is profiting but the works are simply being suppressed because they're out of print but "protected" anyway then that is a crime against humanity.

  • by grapeape ( 137008 ) <mpope7 @ k c . r r . c om> on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @12:49AM (#34400310) Homepage

    Its surprising to see such backwards thinking from people that are normally regarded as futurists. If anything you would think they would recognize that perhaps releasing the older works into the public domain would actually increase interest in the authors who as they point are either still living or recently dead all but ensuring greatly increased royalties from later works. A vast majority of these older works have been all but forgotten. You would think that as a writer of speculative fiction Bear would be able to see the future dark void of lost art that the current copyright over-extensions are creating and would be at the forefront of working to prevent it. Even without that awareness you would think that typical heir greed would compel them to think about the potential windfall of sales from later works rather than the potential loss of future revenue from something like Chain Of Logic or Tomorrows Children which after 60+ likely does not result in enough revenue to buy a new hardback title.

  • by PortHaven ( 242123 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @12:56AM (#34400368) Homepage

    Let's be honest. Copyrights expire at death, with a minimum term (like 15 years) to support any children. Or how about death + years until any children are over 18.

    Frankly, copyright should be original publish date. If it was published in a magazine, then later in book form. Should the copyright be furthered? The music industry has used so-called "re-mastering" to continuously keep works in copyright.

    And we all know that when these 70 yr copyrights expire, a law will be passed to extend it to 100 yrs. And then after that - infinitely. But hey, no one will be alive that will remember anything but infinite copyrights.


    • by leehwtsohg ( 618675 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @03:25AM (#34401350)
      I don't understand this thing about the children or heirs. The money that was earned from owning a copyright for a certain time does not disappear. If the author wants his family to have an income when she's dead, she should invest this money wisely, get life insurance, or whatever. Why is it that when I plan to feed my children by working for another 20 years, my children don't automatically get that money from society if I die, but when an author dies they do?
  • Library of Congress (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rexdude ( 747457 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @01:01AM (#34400420)
    I saw this article somewhere about the huge number of orphaned works that are stored in the LoC, that can only be viewed by physically going there - recordings, books, films from long since vanished artists and producers. Yet they can't be digitized and made available on the net due to copyright liability.

    The best thing for the US would be to announce that all works from before 1940 should automatically return to public domain one year from now, unless rights holders come forward to claim copyright. If there's nobody living to make the claim, then let it into the public domain.

  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <> on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @01:09AM (#34400480) Homepage Journal
    Folks at Project Gutenberg are obviously aware of the potential for a lawsuit. They would like to have one, so that the decision on the copyright status of these works is made concrete.
  • dude, Greg (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rastoboy29 ( 807168 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @03:47AM (#34401468) Homepage
    Greg, 50 years is long enough.

    the rest of the humans
  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @04:26AM (#34401654) Journal
    I think any book that you can put online should be free. This way we'd have an awesome Internet library so big it encompasses any piece of work that anyone has put online. Authors could still make money, but they'd have to be smart about it. Mainly the biggest boon from this is the cost of getting an education would be closer to 0. So when you do you're one Laptop per child, they could get every book ever known to man available to them. Also K-12 education would have their books for free. As education costs go down, the intelligence of society goes up! There might be a lull of book creation for a few years in protest, but when people start writing the books, they'll be much more educated and do a better job. There is a lot to it, but I am arguing that putting everything you can scan and put online to be free would result in a better educated society. We'd even be able to bring a 1rst world education into 3rd world countries.

    Regardless if the laws change or not, I'm making it a personal goal of mine to educate people better and cheaper through software. I'm not doing it immediately though. First things first, get my feet on the ground with some video games. If I can get a money machine through video games, I can then do more humanitarian projects. Cuz the thing is,"Even if they don't change the IP law, no one says you can't rewrite a ton of books yourself, and give it out for free."
  • Comments from PG (Score:5, Informative)

    by gbnewby ( 74175 ) * on Wednesday December 01, 2010 @04:49AM (#34401796) Homepage

    The Anderson/Bear folks posted this a couple of places, and it was picked up a few other places. Here is the text of the most recent substantial message I sent them on the topic: [] . The group has not provided the author/title (or PG eBook number) of any title they think was wrongly determined to be non-renewed, other than those mentioned in the email. They seem to have some theories about what is eligible for renewal, or who can renew, but these are not contested by Project Gutenberg (in fact, our policy is to NOT to question whether renewals were fully compliant with the law, nor whether a person had the correct standing to renew).

    The issue is whether a renewal was made. For The Escape, part 1 was republished with a different title, complete with part 2. Part 1 was not individually renewed, but the newly titled complete work was. We were unaware of the subsequent retitled republication, so did not find the renewal. For the purposes of copyright and renewal, a major outcome of the legal advice we received concerning The Escape is that serialized works are treated as single acts of authorship. Thus, renewal of a part may be considered to apply to the whole -- provided it happens within a reasonable timespan (we have been advised to use +/- four years).

    The Project Gutenberg Copyright How-To has details on our procedures, although the Rule 6 how-to there (for non-renewals) is older than the version we used for the original Anderson/Escape non-renewal determination. We are working on a revision that will include additional research for serials, and a few other variations like republication with different titles. The how-to is here:

    For those who aren't aware, Project Gutenberg is classified in the US as a 501(c)(3) charity, as a library. With over 35,000 published titles, and well over 50,000 unique instances of copyright research (thousands for our Rule 6), it's not surprising that we make occasional errors. To date (I've been doing this aspect of volunteer work for Project Gutenberg since around 1999), we've changed our stance on fewer than 1/2 dozen public domain determinations. Not perfect, but I believe we're doing a good job overall, and have some very solid procedures by copyright experts over the years.

    I first initiated our Rule 6 nearly 10 years ago. This was because I saw that of all the books and serials published in the US from 1923-1963 (when renewal was required for copyright to still apply), 85--90% were never renewed. The US Library of Congress does annual reports on this. Statistically, that means there a million or so items from 1923-1964 whose copyright expired after a 28-year term. These items have been in the public domain in the US since 1992 or earlier (1964+28), and many are out of print. As a policy decision, Project Gutenberg decided it was worth the risk of occasionally missing a renewal, to be able to affirmatively identify the many items for which no renewal occurred. I still believe this decision was the right one.

    For those who are paying attention to Project Gutenberg news today, there was a story in the Washington Post that, more or less, accused Amazon of abusing their customers by selling public domain Project Gutenberg works, with DRM added, for a fee. The article is here: [] . (I exchanged several emails with the author.) It's a weird coincidence that within the same 24 hour period there is another story that basically accuses Project Gutenberg of stealing.

    Enough for now. I'm going back to reading Marusek's "Mind over Ship" (sequel to the excellent "Counting Heads"), one of the hundreds of printed books I purchase every year. Maybe before I shut down for the evening I'll post Doctorow's "Makers"

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"