Friday, April 06, 2007

new tool for researching copyright of published works

As we all know, books published before 1923 in the United States are most definitely in the public domain and books published after 1963 are most certainly all in copyright. Many wrongly assume that all works published after 1923 and before 1963 are also in copyright. This is not a valid blanket assumption. Some did not have their copyright renewed, as required by the process at the time, and are now actually in the public domain. Some had their copyright renewed, and are still protected. Others are “orphan works” where the process of identifying who holds the copyright following deaths of authors and mergers and cessation of operations of many, many publishers is an onerous one. Why does this matter? Because we want to digitize volumes from our collections for which we do not know their copyright status.

There have been resources available in the past to help in this quest. There was a database hosted at Rutgers for Project Gutenberg (, and the Catalog of Copyright Entries at U. Penn (

Now Stanford has launched its Copyright Renewal Database which looks to make it easier to research copyright status for books published during that timespan. Building on the Project Gutenberg database, Stanford has created a new interface to search digitized transcriptions of the U.S. Copyright Office’s Catalog of Copyright Entries that list works where copyright was renewed. The records are known to be spotty, but it's a giant leap in making the copyright status research process a simpler one.

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