Copyright on out of print documents
gochfeld at eohsi.rutgers.edu
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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