Copyright information is busting out all over

Like the crocuses and daffodils now coming up all over our front garden, new copyright registration information has been popping up all over the net lately.  As I’ve described in various previous posts, this information can be extremely useful for folks who want to revive, disseminate, or reuse works from the past.

Here’s a summary of the some of the recent highlights:

Copyright renewals for maps and commercial prints are now all online, and join what is now a complete set of renewals of active copyrights for still images.  The scanning was done here at the Penn Libraries by me and by the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image, from microfilms and volumes loaned by the Free Library of Philadelphia.  I thank all the folks who helped out with this project.

With this addition of this latest set of records, you can now find copyright renewals online for nearly anything you’d find in a book, if they’re recent enough to still be in force.  The only active copyright renewals of any sort not yet online at this point to my knowledge are renewals for most music prior to 1978, and a few small sets of pre-1978 renewals for film (about 2 years’ worth in all).

Original copyright registrations are also going online at a rapid rate.   The biggest publicly accessible set of original registrations from 1923 onward (the date of the oldest copyrights still in force) is at Hathi Trust, and consists of digitized volumes that have been scanned by Google for Hathi member libraries.  I’ve include them in a list of registration volumes organized by year and type of work on my Catalog of Copyright Entries Page, which has now been reorganized to combine all the original and renewal registrations known to be available online.  I’ve also added direct page links to renewal and other important sections of the volumes, so that researchers looking for those can go to them directly.  In many cases, the renewal sections can be downloaded for offline use.  I’ve also brought out statistics from the volumes, to help give readers a sense of the rate of registrations and renewals.

Google is making enhanced versions of book copyright registration volumes available online. Specifically, they’ve digitized the full set of original and renewal registrations for books from 1922-1977, in a set of scans that are of generally higher quality than the ones at Hathi Trust.  You can search the full text of the entire set at once, or search or browse individual volumes.

These scans were done specially for copyright research purposes, and seem to involve more careful scanning than the normal mass-book-digitization procedures Google used for the Hathi Trust volumes.  They aren’t entirely free of problems– I identify a few trouble spots in my listings– and they also don’t include registrations for other types of work, which has apparently confused some folks who have contacted me.  But they’re quite high quality overall, and could be a very good basis for structured data records of these copyright registrations.  Google has previously made such records available for book copyright renewals; I hope we’ll see a release of records based on these new scans before long as well.

Also in the pipeline: Based on conversations I’ve had with others interested in copyright issues, we may well see a complete set of copyright registrations and renewals online (at least in the form of page images from the Catalog of Copyright Entries) by the end of this year.  And a number of projects are working on making this digitized information more useful for practical copyright clearance.  Today, for instance, I heard about the Durationer project, being presented at the Copyright@300 conference at Berkeley later this week.  The project is developing a tool to help people determine the copyright status of specific works in specific jurisdictions, based on copyright registrations and other relevant information.

Some possible future directions: As I described in more detail in a 2007 paper, a thorough determination of a work’s copyright status depends not just on registration information, but on various other kinds of information, much of which can be found in a work’s bibliographic records.  Copyright registration data can also be used to build new bibliographic data structures.  Therefore, the interests of copyright clearance and the interests of access to bibliographic data tend to converge.  I elaborate on this idea in a guest blog post for the Open Knowledge Foundation, who I’ve started to work with in these areas.  (For folks following the debate over OCLC’s WorldCat, this convergence is also worth keeping in mind when reading the just-released WorldCat Rights and Responsibilities draft, which I hope to comment on in the not-too-distant future.)

I hope you find this new copyright information useful.  And I’m very interested in hearing what you’re doing with it, or would like to do with it.

Author: John Mark Ockerbloom

I'm a digital library architect and planner at the University of Pennsylvania.