Copyright Office Seeks Help In Fixing The Culture-Stifling Copyright Records Problem

from the it's-a-start dept

Last month, I wrote about the damage to the public domain caused by the difficulty of accessing older copyright registration records. Since much of the information is not digitized and locked up in books and card catalogs in Washington, countless works that have lapsed into the public domain are treated as if they were still under copyright, since confirming their status is a prohibitive task and the penalty for making a mistake can be severe. This problem, combined with the simple fact that copyright lasts way too long, leads to a huge cultural gap where works are still protected (or presumed to be) but the rightsholder (if one is even apparent) is not making them available.

At the time, the Copyright Office had informally asked for feedback on the idea of creating a “digital card catalog” of raw scans as a stopgap solution, since full digitization is still a major challenge. Now this effort is official: the Office posted two Requests For Information on the Federal Business Opportunities site, seeking outside vendors with the relevant technology and expertise.

The first pertains specifically to the virtual card catalog idea, which would involve raw images of the cards arranged in a virtual hierarchy to match the physical drawers, and currently only seeks to “determine the availability of such software in the marketplace either as an existing product or as a potential development effort”. The second deals with the next step, seeking more information on possible crowdsourcing solutions to help complete the records with metadata and searchable text.

It’s frankly unfortunate that this is necessary, and it wouldn’t be if ever-increasing copyright terms and retroactive extensions hadn’t locked up half of creative history. Today, culture has far outpaced copyright law, and the disconnect between the way things work and the way they are “supposed” to work is staggering. Nonetheless, fully digitized records would have a huge impact on society: people would discover that the public domain is a hell of a lot bigger than anyone thought, and all sorts of forgotten works would be discovered—and renewed both culturally and economically by new creative and business energy. Whether or not the Copyright Office can actually accomplish this task is uncertain, but it’s nice to see evidence of an ongoing effort.

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Comments on “Copyright Office Seeks Help In Fixing The Culture-Stifling Copyright Records Problem”

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That Anonymous Cowardsays:

The wheel reinvented...

So this would be just like Google’s Book scanning system.
Google might have a little experience with scanning tons of data into a searchable format.
While Google can sometimes do evil, I think a partnership with Google would be preferable to a 3rd party vendor who would lock it up.

Dave Nelsonsays:

For once, I agree with “That Anonymous Coward”. Both Google and Microsoft have the hardware, software, and expertise in place to accomplish what the Copyright Office wants to do. They only need permission, and a hard contract to prevent data hoarding, to do it. I, for one, would love to see this happen. Way too much has been locked up.

Leigh Beadonsays:

Re: Re:

Why are people so obsessed with the whole ‘prison rape’ meme? Literally any time someone mentions anything to do with incarceration, somebody comes forward with a comment which amounts to “hahaha – sodomy lol”. I don’t see what the attraction is, quite frankly…

I’ve also never understood “drop the soap” jokes. It seems to me that if you are in a group shower with people intent on raping you, things can’t really get any worse. Nobody is thinking “man I would totally rape that guy if he would just bend over for a second”. And if they are then, dude, just squat to get the soap.

Dave Nelsonsays:

Re: Re:

“Why are people so obsessed with the whole ‘prison rape’ meme?”

Simply because it’s reality in prison. Rape is a power thing. It’s one way, other than beating someone up, to establish the pecking order in a very harsh environment.

Most prisons are nothing like the “country clubs” Hollywood shows you. All are violent and populated mostly by people who comitted violent crimes to get there, don’t want to be there and hate everyone around them because they are. The weak DON’T survive. Prisons are also the main recruiting grounds for most of the criminal white supremacist groups and the worst adult gangs. Prisons are not nice, I don’t care what the liberals and do-gooders tell you.



Bubba has decided to temporarily stop dropping soap in his two person cell and rest from blogging in order to have the time to make a YouTube video with some friends in LA. This is his examination of getting closer to his kinder, gentler side where he is now more comfortable than his previous persona.

Upon his return he will increase his fees for this sort of activity will accordingly to his newly found distaste for it. As for Mr Dodd Bubba wishes it to be known that he will not perform such a service at any price due to the brain wasting disease Mr Dodd so obviously suffers from which Bubba has no intention of being exposed to. Bubba will remind you such services are freely available from either Mr Dodd’s current employer or from the current inhabitor of the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives though the price is rising daily.

Bubba thanks you for your interest in his services and that his rates and services may be found at


So damn out of touch

I would be all for this idea if the Copyright Office actually protected the new archivists that were doing their best to make works more convenient. I would enjoy it if the government didn’t destroy the entrepreneurs making new technology. Hell, I would enjoy the time to create by speaking about new technology instead of showing the depressing display of how copyright destroys lives instead of its express purpose. And the fact is, the government has been given great leeway to do whatever it wants. So I truly believe the Copyright Office doesn’t understand a damn thing about how to make these works more relevant. They won’t update for anything and they’re locking up the people that could make their lives easier.

That’s the entire problem with this. Here’s a suggestion for them… Tell the Executive Branch to back off on the seizures and get more help!


This country is only 236 years old. Current copyright begins in 1923, which is 89 years ago. That about 37% of the life of the country locked up in copyright. And of course, we’re producing far more content now than in our first hundred years.

It would be very beneficial for everyone to separate what is currently public domain and what isn’t. I would argue that the content holdings of today’s major industries are so vast that they have no clue of all the things they own.


I am scared...

1) I am scared that they actually have it so bad right now where they can’t tell if its under copyright or not

2) That they have waited this long to try and organize it digitally

3) That their IT staff can’t use google to look up “document management solutions” to see if something exists already or not. (it does, if Have set large scale systems up for state government before there is even some really good solutions that can make them searchable securely through a website to make it easier for the public.)

The big cost in this will be to get a temp workforce to get it all scanned in and organized then train the people who will be doing it from this point forward. Though they will most likely hire a company that will bring in an offshore contracting company to do that part



Wow! If the LOC does this scanning project, and the estimate that 75% of works were never renewed for copyright is correct, we could be looking at an avalanche of works entering the public domain from 1923-1963! That could help to make up for the fact that the public domain clock doesn’t start running again until 2018!

Mr Big Contentsays:

This Will Just Encourage Piracy

The trouble with this kind of thing is, it sends the wrong message. It’s like rewarding the pirates for their actions, telling them it was all right to infringe if the work was in the public domain.

And of course there will always be mistakes. What if a work is mistakenly put into the public domain? Before you know it, it is possible for an infinite number of copies to be made, all at zero cost, before the mistake can be rectified. Is the Copyright Office willing to pay out infinite damages? I don’t think so.

That Anonymous Cowardsays:

Re: This Will Just Encourage Piracy

Gee Mr Big Content, it sounds like you want the law to protect you. That is really cool and all except your not having to pay when your side lies about owning content, and outright steal it themselves.

So I guess the Copyright Office should face the same penalties your side faces when they do it. Nothing.

In closing, DIAFIRL.

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