[Foundation-l] Stroop report

Lars Aronsson lars at aronsson.se
Tue Apr 1 09:17:54 UTC 2008

> On Sun, Mar 30, 2008 at 2:58 PM, Yann Forget <yann at forget-me.net> wrote:

> > 2009, 60 years after Gandhi's death. The translator is Hélène 
> > Hart, she never wrote nor translated anything else beside this 
> > book, and her date of death is not known, even to the French 
> > National Library (BNF). I personaly called the BNF to ask for 
> > details. The book was published only once in 1924, and is out 
> > of print since then. If even the BNF does not know anything 
> > about Hélène Hart, I doubt anybody else knows it.

I understand that Swedish book publishers in cases like these 
publish the book anyway, and if the copyright holder contacts them 
later there is a standard compensation paid out, based on the 
number of sold copies.  This means that the copyright holder who 
comes too late and makes the claim after publication can get 
compensated but can't negotiate the price and can't veto the 
publication. For the publisher it's not hard to do the math: Just 
set aside the small amount of money for every printed copy.  This 
is apparently a workable solution for the book printing business.

I have tried to figure out if and how this could work for online, 
non-profit projects.  Economic compensation is ruled out for two 
reasons: 1) there is no money that can be set aside or paid, and 
2) we most often don't know how many readers we have, so we can't 
compute the size of the renumeration anyway. The only workable 
approach seems to be to allow the late-coming copyright holder a 
veto, i.e. to take down the work upon request.  This is similar to 
what the Internet Archive or Google are doing.

In many cases, where the copyright that we thought had expired is 
still in force, it will soon expire anyway.  For example, if we 
publish a work by what we thought was an anonymous author, and it 
turns out that they died 55 years ago, the take-down will just be 
a temporary removal for 15 years, and then the copyright will 
really have expired.  Still, such a removal is unfortunate and 
complicated.  I think we can help this by clearly announcing who 
insisted on the removal (rather than granting a free license, 
which was their alternative option), so that the bad will reflects 
on them.  The non-profit has the advantage of being the good guys.

Some might argue that you should always walk on the safe side of 
copyright, always have good margins and never get into trouble.  
However, there is no safe side.  Even if Mark Twain died (in 1910) 
more than 70 years ago, and I publish his works in the best of 
faith, some person might turn up tomorrow and claim that their 
Dutch grandfather who died only 65 years ago was actually a secret 
co-author of that work, and that copyright in the Netherlands is 
still in force.  You can never be completely safe.

Robert Rohde wrote:

> As a matter of law, the US says you can assume that a work is in 
> the public domain 120 years after creation (with some 
> exceptions),

Really?  Can you provide any sources for that statement?

  Lars Aronsson (lars at aronsson.se)
  Aronsson Datateknik - http://aronsson.se

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