Copyright on out of print documents

Michael Gochfeld gochfeld at
Fri Nov 10 20:31:03 EST 2000

I don't know about copyright laws in UK or whether recent international 
attempts to achieve some uniformity or international respect for 
copyrights have any meaning.  In some cases copyrights are time limited 
and they are often not renewed on items that are allowed to go out of 
print. Thus you should check whether after 23 years this volume might 
not have fallen into the public domain.

Since the few volumes available are priced out of the range of those who 
have scientific reasons to consult it, I can't see that making the 
volume available electronically to entomologists would have any impact 
on the value of the original volume to collectors. 

Copyright laws allow a certain amount of reproduction for personal use 
and there is a difference for commercial vs non-commercial uses. It is 
not rare for entrepreneurs to publish volumes whose copyrights have 
expired.  I was surprised to find an unauthorized edition of Arthur 
Conan Doyle's THE LOST WORLD with a new copyright, with no mention about 
consent from either the estate or the original publisher. Fair game I 

In the case of a scientific work such as you describe, the publishers 
really have a responsibility to either make it available or relinquish 
control of it. I presume these were originally published as scholarly 
works as opposed to coffee table for-profit volumes. 

It's not clear why a society wouldn't encourage you to make their 
product available unless they felt you were doing it for a profit and 
they want a share. It wasn't clear whether the author(s) were extant, 
but if so they should be given first refusal over how to disseminate 
their work. I do believe in intellectual property rights for the 
initiator of the property (not necessarily for the vendor). 

I would certainly pursue your proposal to partner with them to publish 
what sounds like a critical intellectual resource.  In some scientific 
areas (though perhaps not entomology) there is an issue over the funding 
source, i.e. publicly funded research has to be available.  In the U.S. 
this is clouded by federal agencies which essentially sell certain 
material to publishing houses to distribute information that ought to be 
available to the public free or at nominal cost.  

So copyright is a murky area and good luck. 


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