Prelinger Library Blog

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

An appropriation-friendly, image-rich, experimental research library. Independent and open to the public.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Google Book Search treats government documents as copyrighted material

Playing with Google Book Search and finding many excellent surprises, including a whole slew of historically valuable government documents that appear to be scanned from libraries at Harvard and Stanford. I've always felt Google is on the way to creating an excellent searchable keyword index of monographic material, even if their online books don't behave like books (as of now, they cannot be downloaded, printed, cataloged, cited, individual pages can't be referred to, and there is no available list or catalog of what books are online).

But there's one really distressing thing happening here. U.S. government documents are, by law, in the public domain, as they are produced with taxpayer funds. The only exceptions to public domain status are a limited number of cases in which private contractors have been hired to produce certain materials to which they retain copyright. But what Google seems to be doing is treating govdocs published after 1923 in the same way as they are treating non-government materials -- as potentially copyrighted material. This is unnecessarily cautious, and what it means is that only "snippets" are available and the document remains unreadable.

Take a look at an example or two:

Here's what appears to be Volume I of Violations of Free Speech and Rights of Labor, the famous LaFollette Committee hearings on industrial espionage, strikebreaking and other unsavory weapons used against labor in the 1930s. If you click on the link, you'll just see snippets. This is a public domain document published in 1936 by the Government Printing Office.

Here are published hearings before the Judiciary Committee in 1974 on the subject of "Warrantless Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance." This is another public domain document that seems highly relevant at this moment.

And here's one volume of a large collection of Senate hearings investigating the munitions industry, probably sometime in the 1930s (the Google "metadata" shows no date).

By contrast, here's a pre-1923 government publication that is readable in full through Google's book reader: Benton MacKaye's fascinating report, Employment and Natural Resources (1919). MacKaye, as many of you may know, was the visionary planner and early "network thinker" who came up with the idea for the Appalachian Trail. It's great to see this report online.

I found dozens of govdocs that were just presented as "snippets," and there are probably thousands more. I've written Google Book Search to ask about what's going on. The real question, as I see it, is whether they are being overcautious (which the 1923ish cutoff would suggest) or worried that making complete page images of government documents easily available might somehow be a threat to their business model. Either way, it's not a good thing to treat government documents as if they were copyrighted material.

(Rick, speaking in his individual capacity)

UPDATE: I've heard from people who may be in a position to know something about this issue. They remind me that many Congressional hearings reprint copyrighted information (e.g., news articles and excerpts from publications). Although the copyright situation involving these reprinted extracts is uncertain, Google is proceeding with extreme caution. I haven't yet checked to see whether post-1923 govdocs containing no reprinted material are restricted from full access. If this is indeed the case, it's unfortunate that negative reaction to Google Book Search has put them in such a defensive position.

FURTHER UPDATE: The embedded copyrights issue doesn't seem to apply. It appears that many other post-1923 government documents are presented only as "snippets." Examples:

The GPO Monthly Catalog for July 1934, a "pure" government document containing only government-generated content

Laws Relating to Shipping and Merchant Marine (1927)

United States Government Manual (1971-72)

and Copyright Law of the United States (date not indicated).

It looks as if Google is definitely considering all post-1923 works under copyright.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Internet Archive scanning center

The Internet Archive is operating a scanning center at the University of California -- it's quite an exciting place. More soon, including links to new digital books scanned from Prelinger Library materials.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Brian Conley's Artist's Talk at Berkeley

On February 7 Megan attended an artist's talk by Brian Conley hosted by the Townsend Center for the Humanities at UC Berkeley. The center is doing a spring lecture series called "When Is Art Research?". During his talk Brian described his process of convening scholars to interpret the meaning of insect writing, and his process of making an academic journal to publish the results. That project and others he described were interesting takes on the relationship between art and documentation, and described using a creative–artistic process to arrive at the creation of the kind of scholarly and ephemeral literature housed in libraries that in our library is positioned as a departure point for art making.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Copyright Office issues Report on Orphan Works

The Copyright Office issued its long-awaited report on orphan works last week. Some of its recommendations are quite interesting.

Along with some 700 other interested parties, Prelinger Library submitted a written comment last year. We hold thousands of orphan works in our collection and hope that the copyright status of these works can be resolved in such a way that we can disseminate worthy materials online for the public benefit.

Remembering Donnis de Camp

Donnis de Camp, a friend for a dozen years and honored shelver at the library during opening week in June 2004, has died after a long illness. We will miss her. Our thoughts are with her husband Marc.

From her obituary in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Donnis de Camp / Co-owned Squirrel Hill bookstore
Sept. 21, 1951-Jan. 28, 2006

Saturday, February 04, 2006
By Marylynne Pitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Donnis de Camp, co-owner of Schoyer's Books, a used-book store in Squirrel Hill, met her future husband after a poetry reading at St. Peter Church in South Oakland.

Her strategy, she later admitted, was this: "If he's funny and a good poet, I'll introduce myself. But if he's boring and bad, I won't."

Marc Selvaggio made her laugh and a year later, in 1983, the couple married and settled in the South Side Slopes. Ms. de Camp then hosted an afternoon classical music program on WDUQ Radio.

In 1985, the couple purchased Schoyer's Books from Bill and Maxine Schoyer and ran the business on South Negley Avenue.

Ms. de Camp, of Berkeley, Calif., died of ovarian cancer at a hospice Jan. 28 in Alamo, Calif. She was 54.

Her passionate avocations included martial arts, feminist literature, operatic music, travel guides, and flamenco and salsa dancing. She was an ardent feminist who possessed grace, a level head, a velvet voice and an engaging intellect.

Besides running the bookstore, Ms. de Camp wrote the shop's book catalogues on travel literature and women's studies and became especially interested in the Middle East and Asia.

In 1988, Charles Aston, head of special collections at the University of Pittsburgh's libraries, hired Ms. de Camp and her husband to appraise thousands of rare 19th-century fine press books donated to Pitt. Mr. Aston said he will miss Ms. de Camp's "wry sense of humor and openness to the world."

Nick Lane of Point Breeze, a real estate manager and bibliophile originally from Britain, often spent Saturdays at Schoyer's.

"It was a warm and comfortable place. Those who survived the trip down the staircase to the basement could browse happily all day and no one would disturb them. It became almost a refuge," he said.

But half the fun was talking with the owners.

"They were so accommodating. They would stop whatever they were doing and they would talk and they would listen, which was even more important," Mr. Lane said.

In 1996, the couple closed the bookstore and moved to Berkeley, where they sold rare and used books through mail order and at large antiquarian fairs.

Ms. de Camp, who was born in Kansas City, Mo., grew up outside of Philadelphia in Flourtown, Montgomery County. She attended Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School and skipped her senior year because she received early admission to Georgetown University in 1967. She studied French, German and literature and spent semesters in Salzburg, Austria, and Paris. She graduated in 1971 with a bachelor's degree.

Within a year, Ms. de Camp joined B. Dalton Booksellers and managed new stores in Philadelphia and Detroit.

She was promoted to regional manager in Pittsburgh in the late 1970s and moved here to oversee 22 stores, including branches in Philadelphia, West Virginia and Pittsburgh. From 1983 to 1985, she worked as a sales representative for Harcourt Brace, a commercial publisher.

While her cancer was in remission, Ms. de Camp traveled to Spain twice with her husband and studied in Granada, her favorite city.

Besides her husband, she is survived by her parents, Margaret and Verl of Lansdale, Montgomery County; and a sister, Debra Heavens of Santa Cruz, Calif.

Her remains were cremated and a private memorial service will be held in the spring.

Memorials may be made to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, 910 17th Street NW, Suite 412, Washington, DC 20006.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Upcoming talk at University of Georgia

Rick's off to Athens to speak at the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts on Wednesday, February 8 at 4:00 pm. The lecture, "Are the Archives Doomed?" will be in 150 Student Learning Center. There's a pdf writeup here.

Remote shelving facilities

Many research libraries operate remote shelving facilities. These are fascinating places; Rick just visited one at University of Pittsburgh that holds 2.7 million books in trays on racks that tower 30 feet above the reinforced floor. Indiana University at Bloomington maintains a page linking to many of these.

Rick speaks at Pitt

Rick spoke at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh on January 26, delivering a talk entitled "Are The Archives Doomed?" Streaming video of his lecture is here. And here is Digital Citizen's podcast.

Thomas G. Lannon summarizes the talk here.

Thanks to everyone at SIS and at Hillman Library for the memorable hospitality and interesting discussions. Mike Dabrishus showed me the Darlington Library and the Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning, which I'd always wanted to see.

Independent School of Art presentation

On Saturday evening, February 4, Megan and Rick spoke at the Independent School of Art dinner guest lecture in San Francisco. We talked about the background, organization, core principles and present/future activities of the library. Great company, thoughtful conversation, excellent food in a Victorian house that reminded us of the McKittrick Hotel in Hitchcock's Vertigo.