Copyright, Distributed Proofreaders, The Faded Page, and the Gutenberg Press.

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Posted by Mike Field on June 05, 2018 at 19:30:07 user mikefield.

I posed a question three days ago (below) about 'Sea Bear's' binoculars. No-one posted a reply before the thread was diverted to another topic, so I assume that no-one has any more knowledge about those binoculars than I do. (I'm still hoping, however.)

However, Adam's comments there about copyright are important and I think deserve a thread on their own, which is why I'm posting this.

The original intention of "copyright" was to protect the author's rights to a work for his/her benefit and the benefit of their immediate beneficiaries. Formulators of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, signed originally in 1886, considered that the value of a copyright would have dropped (and also been diluted) sufficiently within a period of half a century of the author's death that it could then be allowed to lapse without very much, or any, detriment to the rights of the author or his estate.

The Berne Convention is concerned with the intellectual property rights of a variety of such works, but here I'm only concerned with literary works, and in particular with the written works of AR. The Convention stipulates a minimum period of 50 years for a written work's protection after the death of the author, or of the work's publication (essentially, whichever comes last). Countries are free to increase this minimum period within their own territories should they wish. Canada, complying with the original Convention, sticks with the stipulated 50 years. Other countries have extended their copyright periods up to double that. Thanks to Walt Disney's wanting to further protect its products, and Sonny Bono's trying to get 'perpetual copyright' (!) for his own stuff -- they were both Republicans and therefore protectionist :) -- the US now has its own "Mickey Mouse Protection Act". (Really.) This Act extends copyright to 95 years in the US (and for some works to 120 years from creation). In the EU, some works that had been in the public domain have become retrospectively re-copyrighted by individual acts of individual parliaments....

In my view, this matter of "copyrighting" has now become a minefield of dogs' breakfasts (no, Roger didn't write that) and a new, universally-applicable, Berne Convention is badly required.

Now to the matter at hand. Distributed Proofreaders was founded in 2000 as an independent site to assist Project Gutenberg in producing public domain works for reading electronically. It became an official Project Gutenberg site in 2002. In particular, Distributed Proofreaders Canada (DPC, independent, founded in 2007, for which I've been working and to which I'll now refer specifically) first uploads its completed works to The Faded Page website, from where they eventually go to Gutenberg Canada. Works are made available in a variety of electronic formats, including UTF-8, HTML, Epub, Mobi, and PDF. Canada's is the most active proof-reading organisation I think because of its shortest or equal-shortest copyright-protection period, and hence its potential inclusion of the largest number of public-domain works.

Proofreading for the organisation is carried out by members all over the world, demonstrating the utility and beauty of the internet for facilitating cooperative work. The process consists firstly of locating works of interest to the instigators that are in the public domain in Canada, scanning them using OCR, then uploading the scanned documents to DPC. At that point they're then made available to anyone anywhere who wants to help, whereupon each individual page is proof-read three times and proof-formatted twice before being made available to other readers for "smooth reading" (looking for the slight possibility of remaining errors, and for the general flow of the work). After that it's released by its project manager and made available on The Faded Page, and eventually Gutenberg Canada, for free download by anyone, anywhere.

As Adam rightly points out, because of that minefield of different copyright restrictions referred to, The Faded Page draws the attention of copyright issues to its readers --

"These books are public domain in Canada (because we follow the Canadian copyright laws), but if you are in another country, you should satisfy yourself that you are not breaking the copyright laws of your own country by downloading them."

So to wrap this up as far as AR's works are concerned, this means that, as he died in 1967, his twelve S&A books are indeed all candidates for availability on that site. (In fact, nine have already been released and the remainder are presently being worked on.) But 'Coots In The North' will not yet be available because, being published posthumously in 1988, its Canadian copyright will not expire until 2038.

If you live in Canada or any other country that recognises a fifty-year copyright period, electronic download of all twelve books will shortly be possible, and legal. If you live in the UK or the USA, download will of course still be possible but will not be legal; elsewhere it may not; so if you download anyway you will take on yourself whatever risk that might entail.

This is such an important and now complicated topic that any constructive comments would be most welcome.

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