More and better copyright data online for serials and books

It’s getting easier over time to find and use data on copyrights, and thereby to find and make use of materials in the public domain.  Here’s a quick update on what’s new and what’s coming, in my projects and elsewhere.

1. My inventory of first renewals for serials is now completely updated to reflect that all 1923 publications are now in the US public domain (as of this past January). All the copyright renewals for publications from 1923 and earlier that were recorded in my inventory are now gone, and many serials from this list therefore have later “first active renewal” dates, or are shown to no longer have any active copyright renewals.  So you’ll be able to clear copyright quickly for more serial issues.  (A number of major serial archives have now opened access to their 1923 issues– HathiTrust did so back in January, and JSTOR  opened 1923 for many of their journals earlier this month.  With the information in our inventory, though, you can often go substantially farther.)

2. As the result of moving our serials inventory past 1923, we now have a complete set of issue and contribution renewals recorded for 1924 in the various serial information pages linked from the inventory.  Come 2020 (just over 6 months from now!) we hope all of those renewed copyrights will expire, and at that point we plan to delete these renewals from our serial copyright JSON files (since the main purpose of those files is to aid with copyright clearance, and renewals for expired copyrights would just get in the way for that).  However, I can imagine that someone doing work in publishing history or literary analysis might be interested in those renewals.  If anyone’s interested in collecting or analysing all the 1924 renewals for serial issues and contributions, let me know and we can discuss ways to best make that data available for you.  (It’ll also be possible to extract them from our copyright data on Github after we do our July data update, and before 2020.)

3. Besides recording all active renewals for 1924 serial contributions, we’ve also recorded renewals for contributions from 1925 and 1926 that were filed before the middle of 1953.  Because Project Gutenberg has searchable  files that record contribution renewals made after mid-1953, and the Copyright Office has a searchable database for contribution renewals made after the dates covered in those files, it is now possible to find all active contribution renewals through text searches, without having to slowly work your way through page scans for some years like you did before.  (You still might have to look through page scans for issue renewals for some years, but those renewals were filed under the titles of the serial, making them relatively easy to find for a given serial you’re interested in.  Contribution renewals were typically filed under author, making it hard to find all the contribution renewals that existed for a particular serial for some years.)  I’ve updated our guide “Determining copyright status of serial issues” to reflect the more streamlined clearance process that’s now possible with these searches.

We’re not the only ones making copyright information easier to find and work with online.  I’m happy to report that the New York Public Library has just received a grant from IMLS to create a database of published books from the US Copyright Office’s Catalog of Copyright Entries as well.  (Disclosure: I’ll be one of the advisers for that project.) Hopefully, I’ll have updates here before long about what this project is making available, and what folks can do with it.

What else is coming up?  Well, for over a year now we’ve had a complete inventory of serials that had renewals filed for them before 1978. But there a lot of older serials of interest are interested in that aren’t in that renewal, either because no renewals were filed for them, or the earliest renewal was filed after 1977.  Having records for more of those serials in our inventory would be useful, to make them easier for libraries to digitize and researchers to use.  I hope to report soon about some ways we can report on large serial sets of particular interest to libraries and researchers from the data in our inventory and elsewhere.  In the meantime, if there’s a serial that published between 1924 and 1963 you’re particularly interested in, and it’s not already in our inventory, let me know about it and I’ll see what I can find out about its copyrights, or lack of them.

I’ve also been getting questions from time to time related to copyrights and public domain determination for serials and other works.  I’ll be starting to answer some of those questions in upcoming blog posts.  Look for the first of these shortly!


About John Mark Ockerbloom

I'm a digital library strategist at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.
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