I’m happy to report that over the next year, I and others at Penn will be working on a project that the Institute of Museum and Library Services has just funded to help open access to the vast public domain of 20th century serials. We’ll be developing and demonstrating data sets and procedures to make it much easier to verify public domain status for content in scholarly journals, magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and special interest periodicals published in the United States. We hope that all kinds of libraries can take advantage of the resources we provide to make materials like this in their collections available online to all, and digitally preserve them for posterity.
As I’ve noted previously, US publications prior to 1964 had to have their copyrights renewed or they would enter the public domain, and most serial content from that era was not renewed. Projects like HathiTrust and JSTOR have lots of public domain serial content digitized, but they generally don’t provide access to it past 1922, since it’s difficult to verify the status of the post-1922 volumes they have digitized. HathiTrust’s Copyright Review Program has investigated and opened access to many post-1922 books, but to date has not moved into serials, where one needs to verify the public domain status not only of the serial itself, but of the individual contributions (articles, stories, etc.) in the serials. To date, that’s been too complicated to do at scale for them and for many other projects.
We aim to make it simple and practical to do so for many serials. Here’s how we plan to do it:
- First, we’ll complete and openly publish online an inventory, long in the works, of all the serials that have an active issue or contribution copyright renewal filed with the US Copyright Office, and the dates of the first such renewals, up to when the Copyright Office’s online registration catalog picks up.
- Second, with the help of legal experts, we’ll draft suggested procedures for using this inventory, along with other online resources, to quickly identify and check public domain serial content. We plan to develop procedures along the lines of those described in Michigan’s Finding the Public Domain Toolkit, and to be similarly useful to libraries and other digitizers of serials.
- Finally, we’ll demonstrate and publicize our procedures and data sets, by using them to copyright-clear and digitize some sample serial content, by publishing our resources and reports online, and by reaching out to librarians and others who can use them.
We’d love to have you join us in this work. Here are some of the things you might do:
- Help spread the word about this project. I’ll be doing a brief presentation about it at the upcoming Digital Library Federation Forum in Pittsburgh, and will post my slides after the event. I’m happy to talk about it further and answer questions there and anywhere else that’s practical.
- Give us feedback. What are the best ways for us to provide our inventories and procedures? How can we make them easier to understand, use, and (as appropriate) automatically process and repurpose? What kinds of serials deserve particular attention in our procedures and sample digitizations? How can we best reach, and get contributions and suggestions from, the people and institutions that could put these resources to good use?
- Try using the data and procedures, when we have them, to copyright-clear and digitize, public domain serial content you’d like to share with the world. If you let us know what you’ve done, and how it went, we might be able to use what you tell us to improve what we provide; and we can also publicize your digitizations in places like The Online Books Page.
- Help enhance the data we have. Our basic inventory will list all the serials in the time period it covers that have renewals, and list the earliest active renewals. But many of those serials also have public domain content after those first renewals. We don’t have time ourselves to list all of those renewals ourselves for all the serials we list, but it’s possible for motivated folks to do so for material they’d like to digitize or see digitized. I’m very interested in sharing or linking to any such lists that are made for particular serials. (I hope to share an example list of this sort in an upcoming post.)
I’m excited about this project, and about the content that I hope this project will help make available to the world online. If you find it of interest as well, I’d love to hear from you.