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What Right Have They?

 
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Lumberjack
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 03, 2016 7:50 am    Post subject: What Right Have They? Reply with quote

Looking around the Internet this morning, I came across a site selling CDs of Public Domain books for $12 each. Usual conditions, "for personal use only, may not be copied, resold, distributed in any way - blah blah blah!" Just for interest, I took the first title and put it into the Gutenberg Project. Up came the book as a free download for anyone who wanted it! What right have people to copy these books and then sell them for their own gain, whilst imposing their own conditions on them! Is it legal? The books in question are of no interest to me, but I just wonder how they can get away with it? Surely Public Domain is Public Domain and no-one can dictate conditions like that (even the mighty Google).
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AndyJ
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 03, 2016 8:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi LJ,

Funnily enough a similar question arose recently when it was discovered that Getty Images were offering licences for photographs by an eminent American photographer who had effectively placed thousands of her images in the public domain by gifting them to the Library of Congress. We have yet to hear how that matter will be resolved, but it does involve the same ethical question that you raise. And, barring fraudulent claims which might be actionable, that is probably all that can be said about such practices: they are not ethical but equally it is not illegal to take something which is free and sell it at a profit. Something similar has been going on for years with online companies providing a paid for service for such things as processing passport or E111 applications which anyone can do for themselves for free. Much the same applies to most PPI claims handling companies. No doubt these re-sellers would justify their practices by saying there is a cost involved in putting the books on CDs, advertising and distributing them. In effect they are merely replicating what the American publishing industry was doing around 150 years ago, when it took European books and reprinted them in the USA without paying royalties or getting permission.

I suspect that as long as there are gullible people about, there will be schemes like this to part them from their money.

And as for the onerous terms and conditions, these are presumably based on a false (albeit perhaps unstated) claim to copyright, which again is not illegal. Only when such terms and conditions are tested in court will they be found defective and utterly unenforceable.

So thanks for highlighting the issue, and let's hope others will be as savvy as you when it comes to checking out the copyright provenance of older works.
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Lumberjack
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 03, 2016 9:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for answer. It is as I thought. In the past, I have purchased a CD of a Public Domain book, but shortly after, I discovered that thousands of them are on the internet, and freely available to anyone who finds them!
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Nick Cooper
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 07, 2016 2:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There was a time when the only way to properly exploit public domain textual works was to re-typeset and print them commercially. Although that is still done, nowadays anybody with a PC and a scanner can OCR an original edition and then produce physical copies in a variety of much easier ways. One could also scan a first edition (assuming they have access to one) and PDF the actual page images, with or without the original text included underneath.

In both of the above cases a potential buyer will get something worthwhile, either a physical copy, or an accurate facsimilie of the first edition (the latter being something academia strives for when quoting). The same cannot really be said for a plain text file stuck on a CD, when in most cases the same text can probably found for free online. In fact, one does not have to be too cynical to suspect that that's exactly where many of those compiling such CDs got them in the first place, rather than doing the work of sourcing original editions and scanning/OCR them themselves.


Last edited by Nick Cooper on Wed Oct 12, 2016 4:33 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Lumberjack
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 07, 2016 2:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am sure you are correct. It surprises me that they can actually sell CDs of what is available on the internet anyway. But when I first looked into such things, I was taken in myself, and purchased a CD for two or three pounds that was available on the net for free. What I find more disconcerting is when they claim copyright, and apply all sorts of terms and conditions, when they do not have the right anyway. I sometimes use public domain material, but I always add to it, and amplify it with my own works and observations. I also have quite a lot of very old books (100 years plus), but it is very difficult to find out if they are still in copyright, especially if they are not UK productions. Some notable ones coming from Germany with German text, which involves quite a lot of translation work for such as me who doesn't speak any foreign language at all!
I am most suspicious of Googles "terms and conditions" with what I know to be public domain works, and wonder if they could ever enforce their rules if anyone used Google downloads to produce something new.
Australia is a refreshing change, with thousands of their 100-year plus images on the internet with attached notes saying they are in the public domain, and permission is not required to use them for any purpose at all, but they would appreciate acknowledging them as the source. At the same time, they will supply high resolution scans for a fee - which is fair enough!
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