Public Domain

Lets take a moment to reflect about public domain and openness…

We can use the text of Aladore because it is in the public domain.

We need to thank the digitizers for creating the digital surrogate and the various hosts for serving us up all the files.

Imagine how much entertainment and creativity this simple action supports!

However, it is worth questioning the format the text is offered in.  Digitized files are too often held possessively, locked in unusable formats to prevent fully free access.  For example, compare the online reader at Scholars Portal Books ( with the Internet Archive reader.  The procedure to download JPG’s mentioned in the last post is impossible with this reader because of the way the images are embedded.  Despite the fact that it relies on exactly the same type of content server, the JPGs have been carefully hidden by the java script.  Hathi and Scholars Portal Books provide access only via the online reader or PDF download.  In contrast, Internet Archive offers multiple formats for download.  We have seen that these formats are low quality due to the poor OCR and lack of editing–but at least they attempt to make the text more digitally open.

I think this type of openness is important moving forward with digitized materials–freeing the text from the printed page to take full advantage of the digital medium.  In software there is often a distinction made between Gratis (free of charge) software and Libre software.  Libre software is Free in terms of user’s rights (liberty), not only the monetary cost (see:  Public domain books in image based PDFs are free, but not really Libre, because the format is so limiting.   If the text is provided in a more open format, such as XML, it opens new worlds of analysis where the text can be broken free of the page–aggregated, viewed, remixed, or experienced in totally new ways.

We should also think about copyright for a minute: if you check out this chart outlining copyright in USA created by Cornell, you will notice that just decade after Aladore was published, copyright becomes a lot less clear–a ridiculous legal mess and a more restrictive future.  The hording of intellectual property is now a legal reality and big business model.  Canada’s copyright law is slightly simpler, for example skim this guide from University of British Columbia,  It is still an absolute maze when it comes to films, orphan works, or books that contain other public domain text or artwork.

I think it is unfortunate that our culture continues to strengthen the powers of copyright.  At first glance copyright seems like a provision designed to protect authors.  However, in the current model the scales have tipped to allow traditional hoarders of capitol to hoard even more capitol (intellectual capitol).  Its not about authors or creativity.  And it does not acknowledge the collective, cumulative, and interactive nature of creation.  Nothing is an original.  Yet, companies like Disney are starting to make copyright claims about ancient cultural stories such as the Little Mermaid…

Here is an amusing video if you would rather watch something funny about copyright, “A Fair(y) Use Tale”:

Or maybe this interesting documentary “Everything is a Remix”:

If you want to see some great articles that highlight digitized resources in the public domain, check out Public Domain Review.  They do a good job of finding fascinating things and providing some context to understand the objects:



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s