People Are Working Together to Make Public Domain Books Known and Accessible From a Tough-to-Navigate Time

The public domain is a wonderful thing. It is a place where all creative materials end up where anyone can use them for anything for free. A popular creative work in the public domain is Night of the Living Dead. Well, thanks to lobbyists it’s been a long time since anything actually entered the public domain.

A good rule of thumb is that anything from 1922 and earlier is available and anything after 1964 are off limits. If you notice, there’s a nice gap of grey area left from 1923-1964. Well, it turns out that there are a lot of books in that gray area that are actually in the public domain and no one seems to know it. Earlier this year, the New York Public Library shared a post about this time period and expanded on their project to make all of these secretly public domain books available to the masses.

Essentially, what happened is that many authors didn’t extend the copyrights on their books which means that they’ve expired and available to the public domain. Once NYPL realized this, they started trying to figure out how to do this and started by converting the Catalog of Copyright Entries from the Library of Congress into XML files and then with the help of Leonard Richardson, have been going through and finding out which titles are available.

The next step according to Richardson is that volunteers at Project Gutenberg, the Hathi Trust Research Center, and similar organizations have to be able to trust the list, locate a copy of the book, scan it, proof it, and finally release HTML and plain-text editions. That’s a lot of work. Thankfully, it’s already underway. Also, Internet Archive and libraries around the country are reportedly also helping the efforts.

According to VICE, if you want to help, you can email or you can respond to Jason Scott’s (from Internet Archive, not the Power Ranger) tweet from last month about this very project. Let’s build that public domain!

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