The notice on Sense and Sensibility is perhaps the most shocking, as it states
unqualifiedly, “This publication is in copyright,” when, in fact, the novel at
the heart of the book (like all of Austen’s published works) is not.
Simply conducting a Google Books search reveals that publishers are
consistently using similar notices on their reprints of works in the public
domain.10 Mazzone’s article shows these misleading notices are also found on
textbooks, sheet music, websites, and reproductions of museum art.11 One
publisher even asserts rights over the US Constitution.12
A similar species of copyfraud exists where the creator of a digital or a
microfilm scan of a work claims copyright in the scanned version. In reality,
simply scanning or photographing a work adds nothing new to the work, and
where the original work is in the public domain, so, too, are any scans or films
that merely reproduce the work.13 Mazzone documents vendors, such as
ProQuest, who improperly claim rights to microfilm scans of public domain
newspapers and the like, but a recent study suggests that libraries themselves
are making unnecessarily broad or confusing claims about rights in scans
they create.
In 2009, Melanie Schlosser examined the publicly available digitized
collections of 29 members of the Digital Library Federation and found several
disturbing trends in the notices that accompanied these collections.14 In over
40% of the collections, the library provided little or no information about the
copyright status of the collection—whether items were in the public domain,
protected by copyright, or if the status was unknown—leaving users to fend
for themselves. Of the collections that bore statements about copyright, “[q]uite
often” collections that included public domain materials, and even some
collections made up entirely of public domain works, were accompanied by
Creative Commons licenses or claims of rights to the digital image as distinct
from the original. Some collections were encumbered with acceptable-use terms
that were in conflict with copyright, i.e., that purported to limit uses of public
domain materials. Less than 10% of the notices mentioned either the public
domain or fair use.
Schlosser’s findings present an opportunity for libraries to evaluate their
copyright policies and engage in new efforts to educate users about the rights
they have to copy, use, and share materials the libraries posted to the web. In an
interview published in the October 2009 issue of Research Library Issues, Cornell
University’s Senior Policy Advisor Peter Hirtle describes the Cornell University
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Copyfraud and Classroom Performance Rights: Two Common Bogus Copyright Claims
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SEPTEMBER 2011 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A QUARTERLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
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