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Do bad things happen when works enter the Public Domain?

Theodora Middleton - November 7, 2012 in Public Domain

New research shows that the traditional arguments for copyright extension are as flawed as we always suspected.

Copyright is generally defended in terms of the stimulus it gives to creative production: what motivation would anyone have to do anything ever if they don’t get decades of ownership afterwards? But then how do you justify the continual increase in copyright terms which has taken place over the last century, and applies retrospectively to works made in the past? Extending their copyright protection can’t stimulate their production – they’ve already been made!

Three main arguments are advanced: that works which fall into the public domain will be under-exploited, because there will be no incentive to produce new works; that they will be over-exploited, with too many people using them and therefore reducing their worth; and that they will be tarnished, by being reproduced in low quality ways or associated with undesirable things.

All three arguments, it seems, are nonsense. A new research paper, “Do Bad Things Happen When Works Enter the Public Domain?:Empirical Tests of Copyright Term Extension”, has taken the example of audiobook reproductions of public domain and copyrighted works, and investigated the three potential types of damage that are thought to occur in the transition to public domain status::

Our data suggest that the three principal arguments in favor of copyright term extension—under-exploitation, over-exploitation, and tarnishment—are unsupported There seems little reason to fear that once works fall into the public domain, their value will be substantially reduced based on the amount or manner in which they are used. We do not claim that there are no costs to movement into the public domain, but, on the opposite side of the ledger, there are considerable benefits to users of open access to public domain works. We suspect that these benefits dramatically outweigh the costs.
Our data provide almost no support for the arguments made by proponents of copyright term extension that once works fall into the public domain they will be produced in poor quality versions that will undermine their cultural or economic value. Our data indicate no statistically significant difference, for example, between the listeners’ judgments of the quality of professional audiobook readers of copyrighted and public domain texts.

TechDirt commented:

It’s getting to be that time again, when Mickey Mouse gets closer and closer to the public domain — and you know what that means: a debate about copyright term extension. As you know, whenever Mickey is getting close to the public domain, Congress swoops in, at the behest of Disney, and extends copyright.
The results are clear. The so-called “harm” of works falling into the public domain does not appear to exist. Works are still offered (in fact, they’re more available to the public, which we’re told is what copyright is supposed to do), there are still quality works offered, and the works are not overly exploited. So what argument is there left to extend copyright?

I Have A Dream: a law for the public domain in France!

Primavera De Filippi - October 30, 2012 in Public Domain, WG Public Domain

On the 27th of October, Lionel Maurel (@Calimaq) published in his blog a long list of suggestions that would help preserve and promote the public domain in France. In view of the Ministry of Culture’s proposal to enact a new law concerning French cultural heritage, Lionel advocates for the adoption of a law that would also account for the public domain.

Musaeum Clausum, inventory of curiosities

His proposed legal reform is driven by two complementary objectives:

The first objective is defensive, give that there is a urge to protect the public domain in the digital age. The public domain has been subject to a slow erosion over the course of the last century. This is mainly due to the constant extension of the copyright term and the establishment of new rights, but not only. Public-private partnerships for the digitization of the cultural heritage is a source of concern insofar as private firms are granted exclusive rights over digitized copies. Indeed, while digitization should be an opportunity to broadly disseminate public domain works, cultural institutions (libraries, museums, archives) are increasingly affecting the integrity of the public domain by means of specific techniques intended to create new layers of rights over the digital copies of these works. For these reasons, if we want to preserve the public domain in the twenty-first century, it is essential to protect it through the law. We can no longer let this fundamental issue be exclusively dealt with by cultural institutions and the communities they belong to, since those are often ill-equipped to address the issue and might even be tempted to make profits by commodifying the public domain. The State must ensure that the public domain is preserved for the benefit of all citizens, who shall all be entitled to freely access their own cultural heritage and create new works based on prior works.

The other objective is more of an offensive one, in that it suggests a positive reform of copyright law. Thus far, the majority of reform proposals have only been concerned with the issue of piracy and the legitimacy of non-commercial file sharing. Yet, it is just as important to fight on another, complementary front, as regards the positive recognition of the public domain.

The following proposal has been inspired by several sources: Communia’s Manifesto for the public domain, the reform proposals from La Quadrature du Net, the Open Glam report on opening up data and cultural content and the report of the Committee of Wise Men on the European public-private partnerships. Interesting suggestions also came from the report recently published by the Terra Nova Foundation, which has devoted an entire section to the issue of the public domain in the digital age.

It has to be noted, however, that this proposal only concerns French legislation and is not directed towards reforming European law. Hence, it does not cover essential aspects which are crucial for the public domain – such as reducing the duration of copyright and neighboring rights – but that could only be implemented at the European level. Lionel thus proposes a list of twenty-six points for potential law reform, drawn around seven different objectives:

I) To explicitly recognize the notion of the public domain in French Intellectual Property Code

  1. Clarifying the definition of “work of authorship” by endorsing the criteria of originality and fixation directly into the law.

  2. Explicitly including the notion of “public domain” into the provision on the copyright term.

II) To simplify the public domain regime by harmonizing the terms of protection.

  1. Removing the additional term of protection to compensate for the war period.

  2. Removing the 30 years extension for authors who “died for France”

  3. Eliminating the special regime for posthumous works

  4. Simplifying the international application of copyright law

III) To limit the scope of the copyright

  1. Precluding protection for works’ titles

  2. Introducing the distinction between “useful works” and “works of art” into French law

  3. Limiting the scope of moral rights to the life of the author

  4. Preserving the public domain status of works incorporated into composite works

  5. Keeping public domain works freely reusable in the case of simple reprints

  6. Establishing a “three-step test in reverse” to prevent future infringements of the public domain

IV) To prevent attempts to the integrity of the public domain

  1. Ensuring that the faithful reproduction of two-dimensional works in the public domain are also in the public domain

  2. Preventing the commodification of the public domain as a result of the sui-generis rights on databases.

  3. Precluding limitations on the reuse of public domain works according to the French law on public sector information.

  4. Avoiding confusion between the public domain within the meaning of intellectual property and the public domain in the sense of public property.

  5. Prohibiting the use of contractual means to limit the reuse of public domain works.

  6. Prohibiting the use of DRM to constrain the reuse of public domain works.

  7. Dissuade cultural institutions from preventing the reproductions of public domain works

V) To strictly regulate public-private partnerships for the digitization of the public domain

  1. Limiting the exclusive rights granted to private partners and introducing the recommendations of the European Committee of Wise Men into French law

VI) To expand the public domain with recent works

  1. Facilitating the voluntary donation of works in the public domain by their authors

  2. Ensuring that all works produced by public officials in the exercise of their mission automatically enter the public domain

VII) To create mechanisms to further enact the public domain

  1. Establishing penalties for infringements on the integrity of the public domain

  2. Encouraging the CADA to provide advices on the reuse of public domain works

  3. Creating a national registry of public domain works

  4. Ensuring that metadata concerning public domain works are also in the public domain

A more detailed analysis of these points can be found here (only for french speakers).

Lionel concludes with a dream: “that France, the country of Beaumarchais and the patrie of author’s rights, also becomes the first country to pass a law for the public domain!”

We hope that these propositions, although specifically oriented towards French legislation, could be an inspiration for other people to undertake a similar analysis on how the law could contribute to the preservation and promotion of the public domain in their own country !

Launch of the Public Domain Review to celebrate Public Domain Day 2011

Jonathan Gray - January 1, 2011 in Public Domain, Public Domain Works, Releases, WG Public Domain, Working Groups

The following post is from Jonathan Gray, Community Coordinator at the Open Knowledge Foundation.

The 1st of January every year is Public Domain Day, when new works enter the public domain in many (though unfortunately not all) countries around the world.

To celebrate, the Open Knowledge Foundation is launching the Public Domain Review, a web-based review of works which have entered the public domain:

Each week an invited contributor will present an interesting or curious work with a brief accompanying text giving context, commentary and criticism. The first piece takes a look at works by Nathanael West, whose works enter the public domain today in many jurisdictions.

You can sign up to receive the review in your inbox via email. If you’re on Twitter, you can also follow @publicdomainrev. Happy Public Domain Day!

Related posts:

  1. Which works enter the public domain in 2011?
  2. Alpha launch of Public Domain Works
  3. Workshop on Open Bibliographic Data and the Public Domain

Cultural Heritage rights in the age of digital copyright

Stefano Costa - December 21, 2010 in COMMUNIA, Events, Public Domain, WG Archaeology, WG Cultural Heritage, Workshop

The following guest post is from Stefano Costa at the University of Siena. Stefano is Founder of the IOSA initiative and Coordinator of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Working Group on Open Data in Archaeology.

On December, 10th the COMMUNIA WG3 gathered in Istanbul for the final workshop, with the aim of producing a set of recommendations about cultural heritage and the public domain.

I am not a lawyer, so I took a chance to learn about the marked differences between access rights and property rights. More than that, it became soon clear that Cultural Heritage rights (CHR) only exist in certain EU member states (e.g. Italy, Greece) while in others there are no such rights.

This poses a first set of basic problems: a Finn tourist taking a photograph of the Parthenon in Athens might actually be violating Greek CHR, especially if she’s going to publish the resulting image on the Web. Same would happen in Italy, not just inside museums but also for public buildings and panoramas. On the other hand, Portugal only listed 5 buildings that cannot be freely photographed. Apparently Finland poses no restrictions on photographing of CH, be it historical buildings or artistic creations.

CH laws were mostly conceived in a pre-digital age and even those that got recently revamped (like the Italian case) apparently ignore the ease of creating digital reproductions of CH items at no cost and with no risk of damaging the items themselves. Cultural Heritage institutions (CHI) claim quasy-property rights over the artifacts they are custodians of, thus posing serious restrictions not just to personal usage, but also to the development of public repositories like Wikimedia Commons. As the recent GLAMWIKI event at the British Museum showed, some institutions are engaging with open content creators in a positive way, claiming their role of primacy by sharing the knowledge they have, rather than closing their doors and keeping the best for themselves.

In the case of licensing, the widespread distinction between commercial and non-commercial use is really harmful and poses more problems than it solves. What is particularly frustrating is that this distinction doesn’t take into account the existance of the Commons and of the Public Domain, in other words content that can be both commercial and non-commercial at the same time. A photographer might want to publish her photographs of Archaic korai under a CC-BY-SA license, thus enabling any kind of reuse, from the incorporation into Wikimedia Commons to the publishing on a tourist guide or a textbook.

Here a further distinction is worth: most CH items are in the Public Domain themselves (because they were made several centuries ago), but the same doesn’t currently apply to their digital reproductions. If the r. is basically a mechanical operation, one might argue that no copyright should apply to the reproduction, too. Clearly, the distinction between a work that is creative and one that is not is going to be very dangerous in the case of photography and ultimately impossible (think about those monuments that are photographed thousands of times per day).

The fact that going into these subtle juridic details takes so much time and effort is, alone, a good example of the difficulties that this double layer of rights is posing.

The recommendations we collected are aimed in the direction of clearing the nature and extent of CHR, and of maximising the benefits for the Commons and the Public Domain. CHR should not be property rights but rather access rights, thus posing no limitations on subsequent copies of the first reproduction once this takes place. If there is going to be a fee for commercial use of reproductions, the process has to be easy and quick. The policy for museum visitors should be “open by default” and larger institutions (or networks) might ask digital publishers like bloggers and wikipedians to link back to the original item – even though this assumes that there’s a digital collection available on the Web. Licensing of such collections is beyond the scope of COMMUNIA, and CH is also explicitly excluded from the EU PSI directive. There was some work done by the LAPSI project at the last meeting in Barcelona about this, and the survey launched by the European Commission might help in changing this situation. Clearly, countries like Italy and Greece might see this as “selling out” one of their major assets for economic development. We believe the opposite, and tried to develop our discussion around the concept of cultural heritage as infrastructure, just like the road network or the public green, that needs to be maintained for the benefit of all citizens and the overall development of society.

CHI want to retain control over items and buildings that they often regard as “theirs”, but this need has to live together with the fact that millions of people want to share digital content about cultural heritage on the web. Ultimately, this fact should be regarded as a very positive thing, if the mission of institutions is to maximise the awareness of Cultural Heritage among the public and the impact it has on the social and economic life of EU citizens.

Related posts:

  1. Gathering, Preserving and Reusing our Cultural Heritage – the OKFN Cultural Heritage Working Group.
  2. Copyright and the Digital Age
  3. Study on use of open licenses by UK cultural heritage organisations

How we crowdfunded $70k to make public domain recordings of public domain works

Jonathan Gray - November 5, 2010 in Free Culture, Guest post, Public Domain, WG Public Domain

The following guest post is from Aaron Dunn, founder of Musopen and member of the OKF’s Working Group on the Public Domain.

Several years ago, I began a small project I called Musopen (derived from Music + Open Source). As a college student, I was confused as to why record labels were suing their own customers and frustrated that there were no legal alternatives (sources of copyright free music). I became inspired to create Musopen using what recordings I could obtain from my musician friends and college orchestra.

Over the past few years Musopen has been fairly dormant: a small niche site for classical music recordings. I’ve spent most of this time contacting musicians I know personally, writing to music departments to donate music, and very slowly adding more music to the site. Building any community is not an easy thing, but it is even tougher though when that community is made up of groups of people asked to sit and record music and then give up their rights to those recordings. Due to the difficulty in getting new music, I was sure Musopen would remain a small side-project with little potential for growth.

New Approach

Inspired by the success Diaspora experienced with their upcoming Facebook clone, I decided to run a KickStarter campaign for Musopen with the goal of hiring an orchestra. I was hoping it might act as a small PR stunt to draw attention to the project. My original goal was $11,000, just barely enough to hire a decent orchestra and record a small set of music. With a fair amount of international attention including NPR, BBC, Wired Magazine and other coverage, we raised well over our goal receiving over $70,000.

Crowdsourcing Formula

Clearly, crowdsourcing worked in this case. However, not all crowd-sourcing approaches work equally well. I tried something very similar before which despite today thinking it would be a better approach, didn’t work. A year ago I created a feature on the site which allowed users to donate or as I called it “bid” for specific pieces of music. The idea was to create a collaborative Ebay for music, where user’s donations could be combined to purchase music into the public domain.

Not much came of this, many pledged to donate but didn’t pay. There are a few reasons why this happened. One reason is understandable: people wouldn’t donate unless they were certain the piece would be recorded. Many also have specific conditions regarding the license that should be used or specific musicians that should be hired.

KickStarter freed me of these issues as it allowed us to raise money with a singular purpose of freeing as much music as we could afford. Also notable, many of those who donated to Musopen aren’t particularly music people. Kickstarter allowed us to reach an audience passionate about freeing culture or public domain works.

What’s Next for Musopen?

With all the attention the project has received, we are focused on showing that the same model we’re proving for recordings will work for all aspects of music and music education. We are about to finish a college-level music textbook and I am interested in creating several more textbooks, online music theory tutorials, free music lessons/classes, integrating other more modern forms of music and much more.

I’m excited that KickStater and our success has shown that there is potential for open music. We have a lot of projects moving forward and if you or anyone you know is interested in working with us please feel free to write me at aaron@musopen.org.

Related posts:

  1. Musopen – free public domain music!
  2. New developments on Public Domain Works!
  3. Public Domain Works Database Project

Richard Poynder interviews Jordan Hatcher

Jonathan Gray - October 19, 2010 in Interviews, Legal, OKF, Open Data, Open Data Commons, Open Definition, Open Government Data, Open Knowledge Definition, Public Domain, WG Open Licensing

Open Acccess journalist extraordinaire Richard Poynder recently interviewed the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Jordan Hatcher about data licensing, the public domain, and lots more. An excerpt is reproduced below. The full version is available on Richard’s website.

Over the past twenty years or so we have seen a rising tide of alternative copyright licences emerge — for software, music and most types of content. These include the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) licence, the General Public Licence (GPL), and the range of licences devised by Creative Commons (CC). More recently a number of open licences and “dedications” have also been developed to assist people make data more freely available.

The various new licences have given rise to terms like “copyleft” and “libre” licensing, and to a growing social and political movement whose ultimate end-point remains to be established.

Why have these licences been developed? How do they differ from traditional copyright licences? And can we expect them to help or hinder reform of the traditional copyright system — which many now believe has got out of control? I discussed these and other questions in a recent email interview with Jordan Hatcher.

A UK-based Texas lawyer specialising in IT and intellectual property law, Jordan Hatcher is co-founder of OpenDataCommons.org, a board member of the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF), and blogs under the name opencontentlawyer.

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Jordan Hatcher

Big question

RP: Can you begin by saying something about yourself and your experience in the IP/copyright field?

JH: I’m a Texas lawyer living in the UK and focusing on IP and IT law. I concentrate on practical solutions and legal issues centred on the intersection of law and technology. While I like the entire field of IP, international IP and copyright are my most favourite areas.

As to more formal qualifications, I have a BA in Radio/TV/Film, a JD in Law, and an LLM in Innovation, Technology and the Law. I’ve been on the team that helped bring Creative Commons licences to Scotland and have led, or been a team member on, a number of studies looking at open content licences and their use within universities and the cultural heritage sector.

I was formerly a researcher at the University of Edinburgh in IP/IT, and for the past 2.5 years have been providing IP strategy and IP due diligence services with a leading IP strategy consultancy in London.

I’m also the co-founder and principal legal drafter behind Open Data Commons, a project to provide legal tools for open data, and the Chair of the Advisory Council for the Open Definition. I sit on the board for the Open Knowledge Foundation.

More detail than you can ask for is available on my web site here, and on my LinkedIn page here.

RP: It might also help if you reminded us what role copyright is supposed to play in society, how that role has changed over time (assuming that you feel it has) and whether you think it plays the role that society assigned to it successfully today.

JH: Wow that’s a big question and one that has changed quite a bit since the origin of copyright. As with most law, I take a utilitarian / legal realist view that the law is there to encourage a set of behaviours.

Copyright law is often described as being created to encourage more production and dissemination of works, and like any law, its imperfect in its execution.

I think what’s most interesting about copyright history is the technology side (without trying to sound like a technological determinist!). As new and potentially disruptive technologies have come along and changed the balance — from the printing press all the way to digital technology — the way we have reacted has been fairly consistent: some try to hang on to the old model as others eagerly adopt the new model.

For those interested in learning more about copyright’s history, I highly recommend the work of Ronan Deazley, and suggest people look at the first sections in Patry on Copyright. They could also usefully read Patry’s Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars. Additionally, there are many historical materials on copyright available at the homepage for a specific research project on the topic here.

Three tranches

RP: In the past twenty years or so we have seen a number of alternative approaches to licensing content develop — most notably through the General Public Licence and the set of licences developed by the Creative Commons. Why do you think these licences have emerged, and what are the implications of their emergence in your view?

JH: I see free and open licence development as happening within three tranches, all related to a specific area of use.

1. FOSS for software. Alongside the GPL, there have been a number of licences developed since the birth of the movement (and continuing to today), all aimed at software. These licences work best for software and tend to fall over when applied to other areas.

2. Open licences and Public licences for content. These are aimed at content, such as video, images, music, and so on. Creative Commons is certainly the most popular, but definitely not the first. The birth of CC does however represent a watershed moment in thinking about open licensing for content.

I distinguish open licences from public licences here, mostly because Creative Commons is so popular. Open has so many meanings to people (as do “free”) that it is critical to define from a legal perspective what is meant when one says “open”. The Open Knowledge Definition does this, and states that “open” means users have the right to use, reuse, and redistribute the content with very few restrictions — only attribution and share-alike are allowed restrictions, and commercial use must specifically be allowed.

The Open Definition means that only two out of the main six CC licences are open content licences — CC-BY and CC-BY-SA. The other four involve the No Derivatives (ND) restriction (thus prohibiting reuse) or have Non Commercial (NC) restrictions. The other four are what I refer to as “public licences”; in other words they are licences provided for use by the general public.

Of course CC’s public domain tools, such as CC0, all meet the Open Definition as well because they have no restrictions on use, reuse, and redistribution.

I wrote about this in a bit more detail recently on my blog.

3. Open Data Licences. Databases are different from content and software — they are a little like both in what users want to do with them and how licensors want to protect them, but are different from software and content in both the legal rights that apply and how database creators want to use open data licences.

As a result, there’s a need for specific open data licences, which is why we founded Open Data Commons. Today we have three tools available. It’s a new area of open licensing and we’re all still trying to work out all the questions and implications.

Open data

RP: As you say, data needs to be treated differently from other types of content, and for this reason a number of specific licences have been developed — including the Public Domain Dedication Licence (PDDL), the Public Doman Dedication Certificate (PDDC) and Creative Commons Zero. Can you explain how these licences approach the issue of licensing data in an open way?

JH: The three you’ve mentioned are all aimed at placing work into the public domain. The public domain has a very specific meaning in a legal context: It means that there are no copyright or other IP rights over the work. This is the most open/free approach as the aim is to eliminate any restrictions from an IP perspective.

There are some rights that can be hard to eliminate, and so of course patents may still be an issue depending on the context, (but perhaps that’s conversation for another time).

In addition to these tools, we’ve created two additional specific tools for openly licensing databases — the ODbL and the ODC-Attribution licences.

RP: Can you say something about these tools, and what they bring to the party?

JH: All three are tools to help increase the public domain and make it more known and accessible.

There’s some really exciting stuff going on with the public domain right now, including with PD calculators — tools to automatically determine whether a work is in the public domain. The great thing about work in the public domain is that it is completely legally interoperable, as it eliminates copyright restrictions.

See the rest of the interview on Open and Shut

Related posts:

  1. Interview with Jordan Hatcher on legal tools for open data
  2. Jordan Hatcher talk on Open Data Licensing at iSemantics
  3. Open Licenses vs Public Licenses

Which works enter the public domain in 2011?

Jonathan Gray - October 18, 2010 in Events, Public Domain, Public Domain Works, WG Public Domain, Working Groups

Every year on January 1st hundreds of works enter the public domain around the world. So how do we know which works will come of age in 2011?

Like last year we are keen to get a picture of this well in advance so we can start planning celebrations for Public Domain Day 2011 (see here for our round up of the 2010 highlights!).

First off, we can get a rough idea from the data and calculators that are live on our Public Domain Works project:

We are going to be loading a lot more data (e.g. from the British Library and Cambridge University Library) into project very soon, and we also planning to update the calculation code in the light of continued work on the public domain calculators — so watch this space!

To make sure we haven’t missed anyone, we can cross-reference this with bigger lists of notable people (not just creators) who died in 1940, such as one can find on Wikipedia:

Furthermore one can use structured data sources (such as DBpedia faceted search) to do more sophisticated things such as searching for people who died in 1940 who were artists, novelists, or poets.

This gives us the following basic list of famous creators whose work will enter the public domain in 2011 (in many, but unfortunately not all, jurisdictions):

  • Isaac Babel
  • Walter Benjamin
  • John Buchan
  • Mikhail Bulgakov
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Emma Goldman
  • Paul Klee
  • Selma Lagerlof
  • Leon Trotsky
  • Vito Volterra
  • Nathanael West

There are some links to other potentially interesting figures listed at:

Over the following few weeks we’re going to start planning for Public Domain Day 2011. This will hopefully include the launch of a new site for reviews of public domain works:

The excellent European COMMUNIA project is also starting to plan and coordinate activities in this area, which will be collated on their Public Domain Day site!

If you are interested in doing something for Public Domain Day 2011, please add your ideas to the planning pad and/or join the discussion list at:

Related posts:

  1. Launch of the Public Domain Review to celebrate Public Domain Day 2011
  2. Which works fall into the public domain in 2010?
  3. New developments on Public Domain Works!

Interview with Hugh McGuire, Founder of Librivox.org

Jonathan Gray - October 7, 2010 in Exemplars, External, Featured Project, Interviews, Public Domain, WG Public Domain, Working Groups

Following is an interview with Hugh McGuire, Founder of the Librivox project and member of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Working Group on the Public Domain.



Could you tell us a bit about the project and its background? Why did you start it? When? What was the need at the time?

There were some philosophical reasons, and some practical reasons for the creation of LibriVox, which “launched” in August 2005. On the philosophical side, I was fascinated by Richard Stallman and the free software movement, both in methodology and in ethic. I was equally excited by Lessig’s work with the Creative Commons movement and the idea of protecting public domain, including projects such as Michael Hart’s Project Gutenberg. Brewster Kahle’s vision at the Internet Archive of Universal Access to All Human Knowledge was another piece of the puzzle, as was Wikipedia, the most visible non-software open source project around at the time. Finally blogging and podcasting revealed the possibility that anyone could make media and deliver it to the world. It was a potent cocktail.

On the practical side, I was going on a long drive, and wanted to download some free audiobooks – there weren’t very many to be found – and it seemed to me an open source project to make some would be an exciting application of all that stuff I’d been thinking of above.

How is the project doing now? Any numbers on contributors, files, etc? Wider coverage and exposure?

It’s clicking along. We put out about 100 books a month now. Here are our latest stats:

  • Total number of projects 4342
  • Number of completed projects 3768
  • Number of completed non-English projects 551
  • Total number of languages 32
  • Number of languages with a completed work 29
  • Number of completed solo projects 1716
  • Number of readers 3975…who have completed something 3772
  • Total recorded time: 78850563 seconds, or 2 years, 182 days, 3 hours, 18 minutes, and 31 seconds. Total of 78438 sections.

What are the synergies with other projects/inititatives like Project Gutenberg, Wikimedia Foundation projects, Internet Archive and suchlike?

Project Gutenberg provides the bulk of the texts we work from, and they do all the legal work to make sure the texts are in the public domain. They’ve given us some financial support over the years to pay some server costs. And they also have started hosting some of our audiobooks.

Internet Archive hosts all our audio, and when we need a legal entity to represent us – for instance when we launched our first, brief funding drive this spring – IA helps out.

We’ve never had much connection with the Wikimedia Foundation, though we’ve talked with them over the years of course.

Can users request audio versions of particular texts?

Yes, but that doesn’t guarantee that anyone will want to record them.

What are your current plans for languages other than English?

To record all public domain books in all languages in the universe.

Any interesting stories about Librivox content? Coincidences, anecdotes or interesting reuses of the material?

Eegs. Well, some LibriVox cover art was used in a Blackberry commercial. The explosion & popularity of mobile apps – iPhone/Android – built on the LibriVox catalog has been the most gratifying. And we’re starting to see new websites built on our catalog too … it’s exciting, and demonstrates the value of open APIs:

How can people help out? Are there any particular types of assistance or expertise you are currently seeking?

Mostly: reading and prooflistening.

I understand you are personally interested in open content, open data and the public domain. Do you currently have any plans for other projects in this area?

Hrm. I’m mostly focused on book publishing these days, and I’m trying do things in the publishing industry that push towards a more open approach to content.

Can you give a sense of what you hope this area will look like in the future? E.g. in ten or twenty years time? Any thoughts about the future of delivering and reusing public domain content? New opportunities?

Well one thing I would like to see is the public domain expanding again in the USA. The current approach to copyright — essentially extension after extension so that nothing new ever goes into the public domain — is very depressing. But I think the tension between this desire to keep things locked up, and the unprecedented ability to do things with books, media, data is a great debate. I have to think that in the end the value of using data & media in new ways will outwiegh the desire to create false scarcity, but there’s lots of struggle yet to make this happen, and to figure out what businesses look like in such an environment.

In short – we live in interesting times.

Related posts:

  1. Interview with European Journalism Centre on Data Driven Journalism
  2. Notes from Workshop on Open Bibliographic Data and the Public Domain
  3. Interview with Rufus Pollock for Guardian Activate event