Disappearing documents, Archives Team, Facebook, and more: Link roundup 10/4/11

This time, on the link roundup, there are disappearing documents, distributed digital archives projects, inaccurate quilts, government records, and more!

A journey through copyright for sound recordings

Recently I was looking for some music to use for a project a friend of mine is working on. I wanted to either use something public domain or something using a Creative Commons license, and not even try to navigate the waters of “fair use.” Librarians and archivists generally know the scope of US Copyright law. We know that all published works that came out before 1923 are in the public domain. We also know the scope of copyright for new works: 70 years after the death of the author, or 120 or 95 years if a work was created for hire.

However, sound recordings are much more complicated. Federal copyright law did not cover sound recordings until February 15, 1972. When that law was passed, the federal government left the task of determining the copyright status of pre-1972 works to the states. Also in that law, they said that federal copyright law would supercede whatever the states decided on February 15, 2047. (The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 postponed this date until February 15, 2067.)

Wikipedia claims that this means that works created before 1972 are not under copyright. I was able to find folk recordings, including Gene Autry, bluegrass recordings, and a whole host of other things from the 1920s, 30s, and before. However, I did not find anything by any prominent bands. This is most likely due to a ruling by the New York Court of Appeals, which is the highest court for the state of New York. In 2005, Capitol Records sued Naxos, a record distributor from the United Kingdom. Naxos had been digitizing old records from the 1930s and 40s, putting them onto CDs, and selling them in both the UK and the US. The copyright on these records had expired in the UK, and so it was legal for them to sell these CDs there. Some of the records that they digitized were owned by Capitol Records, who claimed that they retained common law copyright protections over those recordings, even though federal copyright law did not apply.

The New York Court of Appeals agreed. In their opinion, they said that “The musical recordings at issue in this case, created before February 15, 1972, are therefore entitled to copyright protection under New York common law until the effective date of federal preemption—February 15, 2067.” While this is currently only law in New York and other states are free to enforce copyright differently, I have the gut feeling that this will be the standard applied everywhere. Wikipedia is getting away with it currently because either no one has noticed or because the owners of the copyright don’t care enough to sue. However, I bet Wikipedia would lose if they were sued. As a result of this case, it seems as though no sound recording can be reliably claimed to be in the public domain until February 15, 2067.

So instead of trying to navigate the world of “public domain” sound recordings, I turned to another source of freely available music: Creative Commons licensed music. There are websites out there that allow artists to post their music under any of the Creative Commons suite of licenses. For example, I got an album by the band Walker Fields from the website Jamendo; I’ve never really explored that website too much, but I’m definitely going to do so more in the future.

I know that the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina has multiple streaming stations available, which stream bluegrass, country, and other old-time music from their collection. I also know that the Wax Cylinder Project at UC Santa Barbara has digitized wax cylinder recordings and made them available under Creative Commons licenses, but these are only two examples.

So my question to you is, if you have sound recordings in your archive, what is your policy for making them available and what is your takedown policy?

Archives and Open Content

(I originally wrote this a week ago, before this article was posted, but they dovetail well.)

In the course of my work I did a brief survey of the copyright policies of some academic libraries and their archives, specifically focusing on websites and finding aids.  I found that most libraries and archives claim copyright over their websites, almost all archives claim copyright over their finding aids, and some claim copyright over digital content while others license it under some sort of Creative Commons license.

Why don’t more archives license their finding aids using Creative Commons? Many archives already link finding aids to the Wikipedia pages of that person, so why not allow them to be used as source material for Wikipedia?  I would guess that, for most repositories, it simply comes down to the fact that no one has ever thought about it and people don’t think its worthwhile to spend time trying to change it.  However, having people use your materials in any public way can serve as advertising. With photographs its a little trickier, because you have to figure out who owns the copyright and/or the rights of publicity, but the general principle still remains.  That is why many archives include the non-commercial clause when licensing their materials under a Creative Commons license: it still allows them to limit their liability while still letting people use the images.  If someone needs that image for a book or some other commercial venture, they can then come to an agreement with the archive on an individual basis.

Archives are never going to make any real money through licensing fees, reproduction fees, and the like. I bet many archives don’t even break even on those kinds of fees when you take into account the staff time needed for reproductions, time hunting down materials, and the like.  But archives should be getting their materials out there, into digital repositories and onto Wikipedia, not to make money transactionally but to show everyone what we are doing and why we are important.  Hopefully then the grant funding agencies, our own institutions, and the general public will realize how important we are, what awesome materials we have, and that we are not scary and imposing places.  Putting this content out there allows the very bodies that fund us to see what we are doing, what materials we are maintaining, and that we are a laboratory for the humanities.  Putting our materials under Creative Commons licenses allows people to take our material and do cool things with it that we would never have dreamed.  While it might not change anything, it has a better chance of curing our funding woes than fees.

Nook, Project Gutenberg, and Distributed Proofreading

I got a Barnes and Noble nook, which is an ebook reader, for Christmas.  So far, I’ve only loaded it up with free ebooks from Project Gutenberg.  Project Gutenberg is a project whose goal is to digitize out of copyright books and make them freely available online.  So far, I’ve downloaded Kafka Metamorphosis, Thoreau’s Walden, a book of essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.  All of these books were published before 1923, and so there are editions of those books that are out of copyright.  The basic process is that these books are scanned, OCR’d, proofread, put into an accetable format, and then published online.  However, only editions from before 1923 can be used in this way; even though we all know Shakespeare’s basic texts are out of copyright, you can’t freely digitize a version of it that was published in 2005, because that version isn’t out of copyright.  And so the goal of Project Gutenberg is the make as many of these books freely available online before their sources are too difficult to find anymore.

Their system of proofreading is also very interesting, and something which I have started participating in.  They have a distributed proofreading system where people can each proofread a page or two or as many as they want, so that the burden can be spread out.  Using this system of volunteers, they are able to publish between 100 and 300 books per month, which is really good seeing as there seems to be no money put into the proofreading process at all.  People find books that are out of copyright, scan them themselves, and upload them to the site, where the volunteers then proofread it, put it into the proper format, and then publish it on the website.  This website is a great success of free culture, and the sort of thing that should happen to works once they come out of copyright and into the public domain: they should be made available to the public at large.

Something which I’ll probably address in an RAO blog post soon is: are archives making their digital works available in ebook formats?  The Kindle and the nook can read pdfs (kinda), but are the repositories putting works out there in mobi/epub format, do they specifically mention ebooks on their website?  I know the Internet Archive has ebook formats, but I find their search system fairly difficult to work with.  It will be interesting to look at this further.