[Support online books campaign][Support online books campaign][Support online books campaign]

Support online books campaign


What is the support online books campaign and the campaign Copyright's Commons?

Like the net blue ribbon campaign against the Communications Decency Act, the support online books campaign is a fight against the enforcement of unjust U.S. legislation suppressing our public-spirited Internet activities.

We seek to resist and speak out against this injustice, stop enforcement of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, educate citizens about the proper role of the Internet in distributing public domain electronic texts, and strengthen the public domain and our common culture against these privatization attempts. The main site for discussion is Copyright's Commons.

What is your beef with the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act?

Please see the web page at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/eldredvreno/index.html
for more information on the lawsuit Eldritch Press has filed to stop enforcement of the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1998, and on the general issue of copyright extension. If you don't agree with our beefs, please add your own informed discussion.

October 28, 1999, U.S. District Court Judge June Green denied our suit against Attorney General Reno, to stop enforcement of the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. See http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/cc/opinion.html for images of the 8-page opinion.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in 2000 and delivered an opinion February 16, 2001, upholding the constitutionality of the extension act, by a 2-1 vote. We now consider an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Please read the opinion and dissent, and participate in the Openlaw discussion, at http://eon.law.harvard.edu/openlaw/eldredvreno

What do you mean by the online books you support?

We mean primarily the books in the public domain, as for example those put online first by Project Gutenberg. But we also include in our definition those books placed online by permission of the copyright holder. We feel these books are "open" too. We feel that the Internet gives everyone a chance to publish and sell books online. We just don't feel that electronic texts that are locked up to prevent fair use, and which never enter the public domain, deserve our support.

Previously you referred to "Open Source (tm) Books"--what?

Well, this is a vague term that needs a better expression, but it seemed that at that point it best captured the spirit of the campaign. The campaign for open software and open books have similar enemies and the concept of "open" needs to be generalized from software to books and other digital media.

It turns out sectarian Open Source (tm) advocates claimed trademark status for that phrase, at least in software, and maintained that "open" did not imply a reasonable copyright term. We were disappointed that they did not consider our campaign to be for "open source". So we no longer use that term, but if you do so, please use the trademark symbol and link to http://www.opensource.org/ or http://www.opencontent.org/ if you prefer.

Can I join the suit against the copyright term extension act?

Provisions may be established for filing friend of the court briefs and petitions against enforcement of the act. Please contact our lawyers. A very good way to help is to join the online discussion group OpenLaw--we believe in preparing briefs openly, so all viewpoints are considered, even if the other side gets a chance to look them over.

The original complaint that Eldritch Press filed against the act can be viewed at
http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/complaint.html and that and following briefs online (some in Adobe PDF format only, sorry) at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/eldredvreno/legaldocs.html

How does the copyright extension act relate to supporting online books?

The copyright extension locks up books (and other media created long ago). It prevents them from entering the public domain, so that the ideas in them can be reused. Many works will be lost to our common culture. Authors will not be encouraged to create new works, but instead all consumers and readers will be forced to pay more money to access works owned by big publishers and distant heirs.

Books in open format digital form, as in Project Gutenberg and those available now on the World Wide Web, stand in opposition to those locked books. They are a clear alternative, since electronic publishing has become so effective that works hitherto inaccessible to readers can now be distributed worldwide in an instant, in a source format readable on computers and other devices, by the blind and sighted readers, and at a distribution price that is too cheap to meter.

Can online books be copyrighted?

Yes, all works of intellectual property are copyrighted (unless the author specifically disclaims it, or the work already went into the public domain), but for a limited term. The important point is that the copyright term has to have reasonable limits if the creative expression is to return to the public domain and be reused. Otherwise it is hard to say that the work is "open" instead of perpetual private property.

Isn't an "open" book a bit of an oxymoron?

No, not if you think of the plans of the large book, music, and software publishers. They wish to lock up intellectual property to fill their own pockets. Their first step is to seize control of the works that without the copyright extension act would fall into the public domain.

The second step is to take advantage of the new protections of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and prevent any fair use of the works, by placing hardware locks and software shrinkwrap licenses on them. This would prevent any resales by consumers, any fair use copying as in archiving, any lending by libraries, any practical reversion to the public domain ever.

You can read more about this at http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/battle.html
--it is the battle between the ebook and the antibook, the book as we know it and the pay-per-view event.

So what I see as the significant contrast between "open" and locked, in this case of books and similar digital media, is that between ebooks, electronic texts available over the Internet, that allow fair use and do not have restrictive software licenses--and on the other hand these locked-up works that will be peddled with the title of "e-books" to remind people of something familiar.

What is wrong with turning books into pay-per-view?

It would seem that increased consumer choice is desirable. But pay-per-view events are designed to prevent any fair use of the text by consumers--for example, to archive, resell, repurpose into a text-to-speech synthesizer for the blind, lending by libraries, and so on. We feel that books must be open in order to play their role in promoting discussion in a democratic society. And when the limited term is over, they must be available in the public domain--pay-per-view won't be.

What can I do to help the online books campaign?

You can demonstrate your support by showing a logo on your web site. Samples in various formats are above. You can also just include the text: "Support online books!" and link to this site or to the main On-line Books Page at http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books

A sample HTML element is as follows (copy and paste this into your web page):

<A HREF="http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/support.html">
<IMG SRC="http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/support.jpg" WIDTH="80" HEIGHT="62"
ALT="[support online books!]" HSPACE="10" BORDER="0"
ALIGN="right" /></A>

You may also put a line in your signature to append to e-mail messages, with a link to this page:
"Support online books!" http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/

If you prefer, Alan Light has proposed more logos, in GIF format and in PNG. Or come up with one of your own!

What can I do to help scan and post online books?

This is urgently needed! Please see the important page at See http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/getinvolved.html

Nobody can do this as an isolated individual. There are several hundred of us around the world who love books and spend our free time scanning them for others. In the spirit of Ray Bradbury's book, Fahrenheit 451, we call ourselves "bookpeople." Wouldn't you like to quit watching television or endlessly upgrading your computer's software, and join us? See the page referred to above for more information.

Can I donate money to your cause?

Eldritch Press is funded entirely by Eric Eldred and does not accept donations of money or advertising (we do publish at our site works scanned by others if they are free and open). However, you may donate to Project Gutenberg or other online archives. Again, see the On-Line Books Page linked above.

Do online books have to be free?

There is an ambiguity in the meaning of "free" here. Some believe it means that no royalties can ever be paid (the strict definition). Others believe that it means no onerous shrinkwrap licenses preventing fair use can be applied (a more liberal definition that makes more sense in today's world of publishing). I for one see no reason why all online books have to be free from recompense to the author in order to be "open", but I don't want this argument to distract from the real issues.

Are you against copyright and a reasonable return to the author for creating new intellectual property?

No. The wise founding fathers who wrote the U.S. Constitution provided for copyright and exclusive rights for a LIMITED term. We believe copyright serves well in a digital economy to promote the progress of science and the useful arts. BUT when copyright term is extended to virtually unlimited periods, and only distant heirs or a few big publishers benefit, then we do not feel that the public interests--and those of the original authors--are served.

Short summary of copyright term: in 1790, it was 14 years, with the option of renewing for 14 years. In 1909, copyright was extended to more works than just maps and books, including piano rolls and other items, and term increased to 28 years, renewable for another 28 years. Later term was increased about a dozen times. In 1978, copyright term for new works was set at 50 years after the death of the author, or 75 years for works already published or work-for-hire works. The 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act increased both terms by 20 years. Consequently, some works will be under copyright for a total of 140 years or more.

We are primarily concerned about the retrospective extension of copyright term. We argue it is unconstitutional. The Copyright Clause in the U.S. Constitution has a purpose, "to promote the progress of science and useful arts" by encouraging publishing. It's hard to encourage publishing of a work already published, and it's hard to give an incentive to a dead person to publish more works.

We are not against authors and increased rights for them. But the Copyright Term Extension Act does not benefit authors, instead mainly large, established publishers, and distant heirs of authors. Authors need incentives to write and publish--this act takes incentives away from authors and gives them to publishers.

Is the battle against copyright term extension over?

No, it has just begun in Canada and Australia. Each of those nations is considering extending copyright term from 50 years after the death of the author to 70 years. We need to provoke extended public debates in those countries and in Japan and China and Taiwan against copyright term extensions--otherwise, they will be quietly passed as in the United States--since the U.S. trade representatives are forcing strong patent and copyright laws onto other countries as a condition of trade with the U.S..

Can something positive be made out of this dispute?

Yes, we would like to see some attention given to establishing a Digital Intellectual Property Conservancy Center. It would have several purposes:

  1. Accept tax-deductible gifts of online publication rights to copyrighted works, and other intellectual property such as patents;
  2. Raise money to buy online publication rights to copyrighted works to make them freely accessible, and other intellectual property such as patents;
  3. Promote the utility of the copyright and copyleft concepts by maintaining a registry of such works, publicizing the concepts, and educating authors, publishers, and readers.
  4. Join with other activists who treasure the public domain and speak out against the privatization of our common culture in this and related fields such as genetic manipulation of food crops, drugs and vaccines, and other intellectual property that is increasingly being produced by the rich countries for the rich countries, at the expense of the world's poorest.

How can I add my voice to this fight?

You can post the logo on your site. You can support Project Gutenberg and other activities to scan and post public domain works online. You can speak out in favor of a strong public domain. You can discuss these issues in forums such as on the New York Times site and at http://www.slashdot.org/
You can speak out against the pernicious effects of locked books such as the new "ebooks" that gadget freaks are gushing about.

How can I learn more about this project?

Eldred will respond to email at
We need your ideas! Or pay my bus fare and I'll speak to your group!

If you wish to be notified of news in the copyright term extension suit, go to http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/cc/registration.html

Here are some news articles we have seen--tell us of other links!:

Slashdot: Appeals Court Rejects Copyright Extension Challenge
New York times article on the oral arguments, Oct. 5, 2000
Moot court at Harvard Law School, Oct. 2.
Boston Globe editorial, Oct. 5, 2000.
NPR audio archive of interview with Eldred and Zittrain, Oct 4, 2000, on "All Things Considered."
Lessig v. Valenti, debate on future of "intellectual property" on the Internet, Oct. 1, 2000, at Harvard Law School. Eldred is wearing the tan Red Sox cap in the archived video.
Reason magazine, Jesse Walker, "Copy Catfight," March 2000 (vol 31, no 10), p 44-51.
Slashdot discussion, 2000-02-05 of Walker's article
http://www.nashuatelegraph.com/news/12x/1205x-copyright.html, Nashua Telegraph, Dec. 5, 1999, by Wendy Walsh, (photo not online).
http://www.economist.com/editorial/freeforall/current/index_wb4516.html, The Economist, London, Dec. 4-10, 1999.
http://www.eagletribune.com. Select News, Archive, Nov. 18 1999, New Hampshire News, Bookish rebel fights for all of us.
http://www.boston.com/globe/magazine/8-29/featurestory1.shtml (photo not online)
London Observer, May 2, 1999.

Last updated: 2001-02-17T06:01:39Z
Eric Eldred, mailto:eldred@mediaone.net
Eldritch Press, http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/