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Public-Domain Bookmobile Hits the Road 175

At Belle Haven Elementary School in Palo Alto, right about... *now*, the Internet Archive Bookmobile is starting its ten-day, cross-country trip to the Supreme Court. They're putting the hammer down (itinerary) (blog) to make it to Ohio for the Bookmobile Conference. Then they'll drive into Washington, D.C. on Oct. 8, the day before the nine Justices hear the copyright-extension case Eldred v. Ashcroft. The contraption is a Ford Aerostar with decals, satellite dish, wireless LAN, laptops... and a printer and binder to do on-demand printing of any of the thousands of public domain books on the internet. (The webpage says 20,000 but the decals claim 1,000,000... maybe they have 50 fonts :) Update: 10/01 01:33 GMT by T : Nick Arnett writes "The piece about Belle Haven School's bookmobile put the school in Palo Alto. It's not; it's across the freeway, in a far less wealthy and privileged neighborhood, where access to technology is much less common than in Palo Alto. (I'm on the board of Plugged In, a community technology center in the same area as Belle Haven.)"
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Public-Domain Bookmobile Hits the Road

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  • by perrin5 ( 38802 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @12:03PM (#4360573) Homepage
    That this has ABSOLUTELY NO EFFECT. The entire point of the Supreme Court is that they are not swayed by public opinion. That's why, once appointed, the justices are in until they retire. Their only decision making process _should_ be the law.

    That said, good for these guys. I am a huge fan of public, attention grabbing demonstrations, plus I like book mobiles.
    • Courts should be, and are, swayed by logical opinions and arguments. That's why our legal system is a combative one.

      An expression of demand for works in the public domain should be considered by the court, ESSPECIALLY if it's shown that they're kept in print /made avaliable despite no copyright.

      The argument for extended copyrights is basically "can't keep them in print if not copywritten," which means that they're largely unavaliable to casual consumers.
    • You have not paid attention to the recent rulings on the federal death penalty. These opinions were explicitly influenced by public opinion.
      • ...because of the words "cruel and unusual punishment" as explicitly specified in the Constitution. Unusual isn't defined in a vacuum, and therefore they were obliged to take into account outside opinions.

        Copyright law is phrased differently; "limited", for instance, doesn't imply "limited according to the attention span of modern bandwidth-crazed channel-switching humanity".
    • In the end, the question is not whether they can be swayed by public opinion, but by corporate dollars.
      • Hi, I'm CrazyDuke, a Slashdot anti-U.S. troll, and I know that anti-government rants are really popular on Slashdot, so I'm going to try to make a witty statement about the Supreme court being owned by corporate interests, even though I have not ever actually read the Constitution or seen how the court works.

        How is the Supreme Court swayed by corporate dollars? Short of outright bribery, I am not aware of any vehicle for this. It's not like the justices have to run a re-election campaign in a couple of years. That's the whole point of appointing them for life. Once they're in, they don't owe anybody anything. They are already sitting on the highest court, so they don't have to impress anyone to get another appointment. They don't have to worry about re-election, so no need for financing a campaign. The justices really have no incentive to take a bribe. The prestige of sitting on the Supreme Court far outweighs such a temporary monetary gain, and the justice taking bribes would be quickly impeached once it was discovered. It's a totally brilliant arrangement: A small group of people with very limited power, but extrememly powerful within their limits. They have no original jurisdiction and no capacity to originate law, so they can't take the country by tyrrany, but once something hits their docket and they agree to hear it, their decisions are absolutely binding. There is no one else to appeal to. Since they are basically immune from any kind of external power, they can afford to vote against the most powerful politicians or corporations if they feel it is necessary (granted, they sometimes are swayed more by the potential for setting precedents than the actual merits of a specific case, but even in those cases, they decide to set or not set precdent according to their consciences). The whole point is to provide a final sanity check where the powerful can be stopped when abusing their power. I am no fan of the copyright extension, but if it is upheld, I do not doubt it will be because five of the justices really believe that was the right thing to do. Your smug comment about corporate dollars was ridiculous.

        • Hi, I'm Zordak, the purple trollisaur. I have little concept of reality. I think that anyone that questions current state of the US government is automagically an anti-US asshole. My life consists of "I love you, you love me, I'm bent over, get some butt lubbing."

          Back to reality, while the Supreme Court can often be a glimmer of sanity in an otherwise greed driven world, they do sometimes bend to interests outside of the constitution and amendments. Bribes are illegal, but gifts and favors are not, especially when no one finds out. I am mearly pointing out that the chance excists that greed can be a desiding factor in this or any case. It did buy these laws in the first place.

          Oh, yeah, even though the Supreme Court is the final say, the Legislative and Executive branches can just ignore it's rulings; and they have been known to so. But, what do I know, I never even read the constitution or anything about the supreme court. :P

          BTW: I'm only 1/4 Troll. I post my worthless opinion whether you like it or not.
    • by stevenbee ( 227371 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @12:15PM (#4360719)
      While it may be true that the Court won't be swayed, I find the project to be rather heartening on a humanitarian level; it's all to rare to see a pure celebration of knowledge and the free flow of information in this day and age....
    • Whether or not the courts are swayed by public opinion, legislators are extremely swayed by public opinion. While it may not help initially at the Supreme Court level, it may garner some previously unknown support for a rich public domain and the public demonstration might actually help hammer through the thick skulls of some politicians (here's hoping!). Remember, even if the Supreme Court rules that The Mickey Mouse Copyright Act is constitutional, there's still the (remote!) possibility that in the future it could be repealed by a benevolent and intelligent Congress.

      Please stop laughing....
    • Where do you think that those wacky laws that are still on the books come from. Do you sincerely think that some politician petitioned a law to allow NYPD officers to bite dogs in Central Park, provided that there was just cause? Or do you think that some cop went in fromt of a judge who was feeling particularly funny and said "The dog bit you? Bite him back next time! Case Dismissed!"

      Believing that the courts are infalliable is just as bad as believing that they should not be aware of all facts of the case to make a just decision. The law is an important, but not entire portion of justice. A judge should be allowed to rule in the interests of justice, within the boundaries of the law.
    • by yerricde ( 125198 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @12:20PM (#4360781) Homepage Journal

      The entire point of the Supreme Court is that they are not swayed by public opinion.

      The Supreme Court isn't the only target of these demonstrations. The U.S. Congress is located in the same town. The entire point of Congress, as implied in the Constitution, is that it is swayed by public opinion.

    • by anthony_dipierro ( 543308 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @12:28PM (#4360860) Journal

      I hope it brings attention to the issue. This is a really important case, regardless of who wins, because the Supreme Court is going to be setting a huge precedent as to how much power the Congress has in passing copyright laws. Even if they don't strike down the law they're almost certainly going to condemn the Appeals Court for saying that the First Amendment does not apply, and they are going to decide whether or not Congress is allowed to pass Copyright law which does not promote the progress of science and useful arts.

      I think we're going to have a split decision, or else we're going to see the law struck down, and I highly doubt public opinion is going to be a factor at all. But people need to be educated on the issues. Even many if not most Slashdotters don't realize that copyright is not a moral right, but is one which granted solely for the purpose of encouraging progress. This Supreme Court ruling should help to show that fact.

    • Wrong. (Mostly)

      The Court regularly consults public opinion and does so for a reason. Most notably the court takes into effect "evolving standards of decency." More importantly, the court can only make the most logical argument when it sees and understands all of the possibilities. This is an attempt to explain what's possible.

    • It's one thing to be swayed, another to see an example that may counter a claim set forth.

      This demonstration could be to public-domain, what the Win98 IE remover was to M$' antitrust case.
  • Yes! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 30, 2002 @12:04PM (#4360589)
    Let's run behind it and warchalk!
  • by Gorm the DBA ( 581373 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @12:04PM (#4360590) Journal
    They're going to use countless reams of paper to document on hardcopy the information that's been digitized from the original paper copies...

    Brilliant...just brilliant!

    • I don't know about you, I but I wouldn't read a book on a computer screen.
      • but I wouldn't read a book on a computer screen.

        How many pages of Slashdot have you read? Let's see... 291 comments... how many pages does it take to produce enough articles to draw 291 comments from the average /. user?

        • Yes, but I'll spend 20 minutes on slashdot, go do something else (for example, play my cello (as I just did), go to class, do homework, etc.) and come back later. When I read a book I sit down for a couple hours and read straight through. I've yet to see a computer monitor I can read from for that length of time without a good amount of breaks. The closest I've seen are good LCDs.
      • I've said it many times... reading black text on a white background is like reading the label on a flourscent bulb.

        First of all, changing your colorscheme will make reading for long periods much more bearable.... Black background with white text is the best option.

        The second option is to get monitor manufacturer to make a monitor with non-backlit materials. A good example is the black & white LCD screens on handhelds. It would cost less, cause less eye strain, and save loads of paper, as suddenly, people don't mind reading electronic coppies of documents. Why it hasn't been done, I don't know.
    • Greenpeace will be sure to flip over their van.
    • Good point.

      While still offering the printed version, couldn't they also put in a cheap CD writer and burn CDs with books of your choice?

      Everytime they stop they could run to a Staples for a few stacks of cheap CD-R's. Probably less expensive than paper.
      • There are two big problems with this. I don't curl up in bed with my laptop to read something and I have yet to see a a bookreader device thats as easy on the eyes as a well typeset book. The other problem is that CD-Rs are more perishable that books and for several reasons. They won't give us a CDR unless it is encrusted with DRM. Hard drive crash? No license for you; buy the book again. Format change? No license for you. Microsoft exercises their infamous EULA terms? No license for you. If that wasn't bad enough, the physical lifetime of CDRs is bad as well. They don't seem to age as well pressed CDRs and there are doubts about those as well. Backup copy? DRM! Forget it

        Yeah there's ways around it if you don't mind risking pound-me-in-the-butt federal prison but employing them for an entire library would be tedious. If I did buy a DRMed book, I'd probably look for a crack for all the same reasons we do it to games we have paid for. At the end of the day, DRM will be a PITA even for those who think it is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

        If someone fairly reasonable like Piers Anthony is gung ho for it then other authors will be well. Just check his newsletter. An email exchange pretty demonstrated to me that he thinks this stuff will Get Him Paid and nevermind the negative consequences.

        Screw CDRs. I'll take the printed book thank you very much.
        • You missed the point. The works being distributed are in the public domain and therefore there is no DRM issue.

          On the other hand, paper can be recycled, and if they print on paper that has already been recycled, then the environmental issue is small and managable. Plastic and ??? materials in CDRs probably are more of an environmental problem.

          Also, no-doubt you can download these works on-line if you want to read them that way, but until displays get a lot better, this won't be the most popular way to read a book.

          The display technology probably can be made good enough to make a nice reading device, but it probably would cost a bit more than most people want to spend.

  • It's good that a public domain bookmobile is available. Pretty soon we should start to see other public domain vehicles.
  • Then they'll drive into Washington, D.C. on Oct. 8

    Good luck finding a parking space for the 21st century RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) van.
  • Hmm. (Score:3, Funny)

    by loraksus ( 171574 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @12:07PM (#4360629) Homepage
    I somehow doubt that the justices will be impressed by printouts of ascii porn.
  • I betcha Scientology has been pushing for this. It's only because they, bizarrely, claim copyright on their "biblical texts" that they're able to sue protesters for copyright infringement. The works should have started going public domain in ~2023, but now it looks like it'll be ~2043. Very disappointing.
    • Re:Scientology... (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If the copyright extension law was named after "Sonny Bono," and Sonny was a scientologist in congress, I guess if you squint real hard you could see a connection.

      Maybe you don't have to squint too hard after all. According to George magazine August, 1999, after L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986, Sonny Bono wrote in tribute, "My only sorrow is that L. Ron Hubbard left before I could thank him for my new life."

      Alas the Druids got him before he could do more damage.

      For more info: http:

  • by greenhide ( 597777 ) <`moc.ylkeewellivc' `ta' `todhsalsnadroj'> on Monday September 30, 2002 @12:12PM (#4360686)
    From what I've heard, this will be the future of *all* printing. With the exception of perennial winners like Stephen King, authors will now have their works digitized. Then people interested in reading their books will go to a printing center where an exact copy of that book can be printed.

    The benefits, of course, is that the number of copies printed matches exactly the number of copies purchased. The downside is that many people use hands-on browsing to find books they want, which won't be possible when the books are in digital format.

    In regards to this specific campaign, I think that it's hopeful that the Supreme court is making a decision here, because I think they tend to be pretty good about decisions in these areas. It's pretty clear from a legal standpoint what the decision should be. The primary purpose of the constitution is to protect our constitutional rights. This law restricts our rights and extends copyright protections to far beyond what their original limitations were. I *don't* think that the bookmobile will have much effect on the Court, but hopefully it will make some of our citizens more aware of just how many new ways corporations are seeking to screw us.

    So, here's hoping. *crosses fingers*
    • Doesn't need to be digitised for most authors. They provide electronic copy to their publishers. Even for the Slush pile [] is preferred to be electronic.
    • The benefits, of course, is that the number of copies printed matches exactly the number of copies purchased.

      That's a very, VERY big advantage to a publisher. It means that there's no tax-penalty for large print runs, and thus the incentive to roll out "crappy book of the month" goes away.


      The downside is that many people use hands-on browsing to find books they want, which won't be possible when the books are in digital format.

      That's not the big downside; bookstores could just select a few and print them themselves, if the system works.

      The problem is that it's inefficient. Book runs benefit from economy of scale, and "one book runs" may be good for out of print material like Public Domain stuff, but it's not nice as the primary book sale method.

      Beat the inefficiency, and I (and all the publishers in the world) would love it. Imagine--instant corrections, no returns... it'd be great!
      • Actually, the economy of scale in printing a book run isn't that great, and it's falling as print-on-demand gets better, driven by people going to copy centers to print a dozen of the thing they're holding.

        Doing large print runs is inefficient in storage and because you have to move the books to the place they're sold. That's starting to matter more than the actual printing.
      • Imagine--instant corrections, no returns... it'd be great! Great, in the future we'll have books titled: The Great Gatsby, 3.2.18, RC2-SP3a/9-b
      • Book bindings are shoddy enough as it is. the LAST thing we need is some sort of "print on demand" factory having to make them WORSE in the name of speed.
        • There is no mechanism that means that print-on-demand will be lower quality than a traditional print run. In fact, doing so would ensure the thing to failure.

          There's nothing in the manufacuring process that cannot be done on a small scale. From what I've seen in print runs, it's not uncommon for professional bookbinding to be done one at a time by a binding machine--perhaps in rapid succession, but still one-at-a-time.

          Plus, there's the simple fact that shoddy book covers are caused by poor materials, not sloppy application of said materials.

          Heck, considering that there'd be total Quality Checking right at the "printer," quality would improve if anything. And
    • I am in complete diagreement with everyone here on this issue, I believe. The copyright owners of these works are the writers, who are famously poor (a few exceptions aside). Believe me, as a writer, we are poor. Taking away copyrights from writers will not steal money from "big corporations," who make their money off distribution. Neither do I hope that the future demands digitized books, wherin writers will never make any money ever. I am not sure why all of you are in favor of this. In short, writers are in a very different situation from engineers. Their work is not "information", but art. The copyrights are in their hands, not the publishers. Just because both code and novels contain words do not make them the same.
      • I think most of the protesting regarding these recent copyright laws is that they seem to be designed to protect the copyrights not of authors, but rather corporations. These new laws do not, to my understanding, affect the copyrights of any living authors. They merely extend the copyrights, retroactively, of works whose copyright had already expired as well as extending copyrights for some works which have been already copyrighted for over 75 years.

        If my understanding of this issue is incorrect, I would love to be informed of this.

        I am not certain how authors will not make any money off of digitized books, especially in cases where they are not actually available in digital form (which could lead to copyright infrigement or unfair use), but rather versions in digital form which could be printed on demand. This would only benefit the author, as it means that their book can be made available to anyone anywhere in the world, in *printed* form, for which they will receive royalties.

        Finally, I think that most authors don't make much money off of the royalties, but rather off of payments from the publisher. Is this incorrect?
      • Ummm, I think they are fighting to have it have the copyright lowered to something similar to the lifetime of the author. Even if they do from the date it's published until 30 years later, that should end up being 30 years you have ample time to make money off of the work. What they are fighting is that major corporations are fighting for copyright indefinitely. Take Disney for example. Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse... Disney died sometime in the 60's. Walt made all the money he was ever going to make and enjoy by the day he died. Yes his family has some rights to his creation. However, the corporation at large has been living off that stupid mouse for 40 years after his death. They are fighting to have copyright made into a full blown right indefinitely. Right now, me at the age of 25, if I create something, I have the copyright on it, until at least the year 2077. Assuming I live another 60 years, that's 2137 before it's public domain. That's nearly two lifetimes. It'll 12 generations before it'll ever be in the public domain. It's too long. Copyright is there to enable progress, not to give a monopoly to the creator of the content.
      • Following links, you would find This Article []
        This Article []

        And Interesting quote from the first article:
        According to Lessig, Congress has extended copyright terms 11 times since 1962, each just as the copyright on the first Mickey Mouse film, Steamboat Willie, was set to expire.

        The work of the creator is art, and should definitely be protected and controlled by the artist (this brings them more profit off their work, hence more incentive to create additional works) But in many cases, the control has been handed over to greedy corporations. The bookmobile may be trying to demonstrate that these corporations (and the politians that pander to their every whim) have affected more than just their target media. Because of the greedy corporations *ahem* Disney *ahem* trying to protect Mickey Mouse, they've deprived everyone of other great works of literature and music (much greater than Mickey Mouse)
        I do think it's unfair that it could be taken in the manner that writers are greedy, but that is definitely not the case.
        The article is not talking about taking away copyrights, it's talking about increaseing public knowledge that their rights may be under attack and that restoring a resonable amount of time after an artists death will increase the value of the public domain and help the commons of information.
      • As several people have said in response to your other post (which looks oddly similar to this one...), you don't agree because you are arguing a different issue. This isn't about getting rid of copyrights; it's about getting rid of unreasonably long copyright terms. This will not change anything for you, unless you manage to live for several decades after you die.

        Even if the copyright term was cut way back to just 30 or 40 years, it should not have any effect on you. If you are poor living off of what you write today, how much will it be making you in 40 years? If you are still making a considerable amount of money in 40 years, you probably wouldn't be poor. Either way, copyright beyond this point does little more than restrict public access to this material.

        As for the future of digital distribution, I think your vision of it is way off. In the somewhat unreasonable extreme case that there is no possibility of making money from writing, then people will only write if they are willing to give away their work for free, while making a living doing something else. There are already many people, including myself, who do this to some extent. If there is a demand for more than what is available for free, then there will be a market for paid writing. If there is not a demand, then why should some writers make money from something that nobody wants? (Yes, I know there are a lot of parallels to Microsoft/RIAA/MPAA/etc. here.)

        So if, in the present situation, there is a demand for paid writing, why are you poor? The problem, as it is in several other content-driven markets, is that the market is saturated. Writing probably has the most saturated market because there are a couple thousand years of written works (in 100 years or so of commonly available printings) to compete with, most of which can be obtained at little or no cost. When you consider all the other forms of entertainment that compete with reading, it's amazing that anyone other than the widely popular authors can make a living at this.

        Finally, to take a page from the anti-RIAA/MPAA arguments, just because you have been able to make a living at something, that doesn't mean you should always be able to do so. Markets change, and sometimes you get left behind. The .coms learned this the hard way. Calling your product "art" doesn't make you immune to economic realities.

      • It's disappointing to see that some writers may have such a poor understanding of the economic effects that get them paid.

        When your publisher decides the amount of money they are willing to pay you, the current length of copyright plays no role in their decision whatsoever. There are a number of ways to explain this, and I have time for none of them right now. I might follow up after work.

        I would like to suggest that your relative poverty is completely independent of the duration of copyright, so long as it lasts at least 20 years.

        Also, you're not going to get very far on a geek new site by denegrating the creativity involved in writing computer code. Computer code is a copyrightable product. Of course some computer code does not require artistic ability, just as some writing requires no artistic ability. Since there is no objective distinction between artistic and inartistic writing/coding, there should be no legal distinction.

        You may think lowly of computer code. Do not assume that we do, or that we think lowly of other writings.
    • The downside is that many people use hands-on browsing to find books they want, which won't be possible when the books are in digital format.

      They can still do that at bookstores. The difference is that the bookstore will only have one copy of the book on display. You then tell the sales person you want to buy that book, and he will print it for you right there. The copy on display remains on display. And since there's only one copy on display, there's more room for different books, so bookstores will have an even greater variety of books on display. It's win/win for everyone.

      • They could also have the digital books be viewable on monitors in the store. Personally, I find it fairly annoying when I have to go around looking for a particular book, and I only buy maybe 10% of my books as impulse buys while in the store.
    • The primary purpose of the constitution is to protect our constitutional rights.

      Ah yes, to understand recursion one must first understand recursion.
    • The primary purpose of the constitution is to protect our constitutional rights.

      Actually, the primary purpose of the Constitution was, in its own words, to form a more perfect Union. In other words, to create a stronger government than the Articles of Confederation provided for.

      Back then, though, there was a strong understanding that, when a group sets up a government, they're giving up certain natural rights that they have simply by virtue of being living, breathing human beings. (Whenever you hear a politician talking about 'granting' or 'creating' or 'giving' you rights, be suspicious. Governments can't give rights, they can only take them away.) So, before they signed the contract to join this Union, they wanted certain provisions set out for rights that the new government -wouldn't- take. Hence the first Ten Amendments [].

      </Constitutional History Nitpick> ;-)
  • and I hope that it helps, maybe not so much with the court, but with public opinion and knowledge about what's been happening to copywrite laws over the last 40 years and what's been taken away from the public domain in the process.

    I also hope they post more information about the trip as they go- it looks like their coming right through chicago and I'd love to see it if they stop here.
  • Cute, but silly (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sssmashy ( 612587 )
    I think the whole concept of a mobile bookmobile downloading e-books by satellite is cute, but... couldn't they just show the kids how to download the e-books from home? Or, since the books are mostly public-domain classics, why not provide the kids with some of the millions of second-hand paper editions in circulation? It's not as sexy a solution, but at least the kids won't strain their young eyeballs squinting at a screen, or waste trees by printing them out.
    • couldn't they just show the kids how to download the e-books from home?

      You assume they have a net connection. Two words: Digital Divide

      Or, since the books are mostly public-domain classics, why not provide the kids with some of the millions of second-hand paper editions in circulation?

      But you're forgetting that not all the paper editions in circulation are themselves in the public domain.
  • A "Flamin' Ford" Aerostar loaded to the hilt with a satellite dish, wireless LAN, laptops, printers, various other electronics, and thousands of sheets of paper. Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. Let's hope it makes it to Washington in one piece...
    • Sadly, I imagine there are just as many people out there cheering on a fiery inferno of death as there are people hoping they'll make it to Washington.

      Kind of makes you wonder which would be more effective at getting the court's attention, though.

      (I, of course, would prefer they make it there safe and sound. Death being so permanent and all.)
  • She's a librarian, and is looking forward to it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 30, 2002 @12:34PM (#4360907)
    Dateline Washington: Bookmobile crew arrested for wardriving.

    "We're amazed that they thought they'd get away with it; that dish isn't exactly low-profile", said police spokesman Lt. Clueless.

    "The occupants of the vehicle have been arrested and detained for possible terrorist acts. We believe they were attempting to download and print, on the spot, confidential government files."

    Sources said the lack of confidential documents was not considered in the decison to make the arrest. "What else could they possibly be doing with that kind of equipment? They were clearly up to no good."

    In response, the Homeland Security Department upgraded the national alert status to light pink. A White House spokesman denied rumors that the president's wardrobe selection was crossed with security documents. "He just thought he'd give orange a shot. What's wrong with orange for a tie? Besides, the president has been dressing himself for years, he doesn't need a wardrobe list."

    Tom Ridge(winner of the annual "Who exactly is he anyway and how did he get to be where he is?" award, could not be reached for comment as he was busy looking severe, concerned, and important while personally inspecting a donut factory to make sure the nation's donut supply would not be in danger in case of a biological attack.
  • I am in complete diagreement with everyone here on this issue, I believe. The copyright owners of these works are the writers, who are famously poor (a few exceptions aside). Believe me, as a writer, we are poor. Taking away copyrights from writers will not steal money from "big corporations," who make their money off distribution. Neither do I hope that the future demands digitized books, wherin writers will never make any money ever. I am not sure why all of you are in favor of this. In short, writers are in a very different situation from engineers. Their work is not "information", but art. The copyrights are in their hands, not the publishers. No one else would have "figured out" that particular novel. Just because both code and novels contain words do not make them the same.
    • Copyright currently lasts longer than the life of the author. A lot longer. If we shorten it to only the life of the author, how much harm will that do?
      • Well, you'd possibly be harming the writer's spouse and children, who might gain benefit from continuing to hold copyright on their deceased relative's works. For example, under your idea, J.D. Salinger dies. A movie is immediately made of Catcher in the Rye which makes millions and millions of dollars. J.D. Salinger's wife gets nothing. See the problem?
        • J.D. Salinger's wife gets nothing. See the problem?

          Yeah, I see the problem. The book is 51 years old. Should Salinger's left niece twice removed still be making money off something great granduncle wrote half a century ago? I did some pretty good work back in the 1980s. I don't see my family making a dime off it today. Salinger made plenty off Catcher in the Rye.

          Now, probably a more reasonable copyright term would be 20 years--same as a patent. Then if Salinger got hit by a truck in 1958, his third cousin's wife could have bought a new mink when they made the movie.

        • Well, you'd possibly be harming the writer's spouse and children, who might gain benefit from continuing to hold copyright on their deceased relative's works.

          As a writer and father myself, I'm going to tell my daughter that I'll provide for her until she's 18 (maybe 25 if she's at least going to school somewhere), and then she can make her own damn living. She's only one, but it's clear that she'll be able to think well enough on her own and be independent enough to fend for herself.

          If, by some unfortunate and tragic accident, I happen to die before she's able to make it on her own, it would be great if my writings (few of which are even published at this point) could provide that extra financial cushion. However, I don't think it's right, or even desirable, that she should be able to live a fat life off of my hard work. If she wants to make money from what I do, let her fight it out in the marketplace just like everyone else.

      • If we shorten it to only the life of the author, how much harm will that do?

        A publisher wouldn't touch a mid-list authors book if she were close to death and the copyright would expire on her demise. I think the original copyright law was the correct one for books. 18 years, renewable for another 18 if the author is still alive. Maybe it should be shorter today because of distribution, etc. But then there are children's books to consider. I think life and a minimum of 10 years makes sense.
        • If you don't do the "life + xx" you don't run into the unfair situation where two one-hit-wonder authors write a book to support their family (spouse + baby) and one of them gets run over by a car.

          It's a contrived example, but still reasonable I think. Why should my work be worth less because I'm old, or if I happen to have inoperable cancer?

          No other type of work lets you do one thing and retire on it if it's popular. If you make a beautiful chair and get famous, you still have to make and sell more chairs. And the person who owns the famous chair can let other people sit in it. It if was a book people somehow expect to be able to coast through life on an old success. (Which is unreasonable, very very few works are still bringing in useful royalty cheques sixty years after publishing.)

          Then there's the idea that someone might want to unfairly influence the "life" part of a copyright. A little "accident" and some expensive artist's copyright will expire fifty years earlier than it might have. Or, keep W. Disney cryonically suspended and his copyright will never die. :)

          Personally, I think almost all the benefit will come from the first 10 years. Make copyrights 10, with two optional five year extentions if you can show cause. (Has to be commercially or artistically viable, not just to keep someone else from having it.) However, a fifty year 'no for-profit reproduction' limit might be reasonable. If the author can still sell it, give them the right, but let people freely copy it amongst themselves. And if you want to give a very long (100+ year) moral copyright, such that misatributions aren't allowed, that's reasonable.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I think you're missing the point here - most of the problem doesn't involve copyrights held by WRITERS, but by copyrights held by corporations and heirs long long after the original author is dead. (But if you have some plan to take the money with you I guess more power to you...)

      A reasonable system would give rights for a reasonable period after the authors' death (10-20 years?) and not just extend things again and again so that books not in print never see the light of day again.

      Look at it this way - as a writer, if you are not successful enough to have something in print when you die - it may well be nobody gets the chance to read your works ever again. People will be unable to make a copy of the work since no publisher will be willing to publish it - and your creative works will just be completely forgotten. All because of a few works where the copyright is held by corporations who wish to extend their hold over the property in perpetuity.
      *cough disney cough*
    • But 70 years after you die? Is there something I am missing here? No one is talking about taking copyrights away from writers - the conversations is about whether or not copyright protections should be extended another twenty years after the authors death. With all due respect, the starving artist argument ends when the author passes away, and then it becomes a matter of the author's family enjoying the fruits of the author's labor for almost their entire lives.
    • I beleive you are mistaken as to what the people here actually beleive. The vast majority of the people here are not against the idea of copyright (GPL could not exist without the concept that the creator of a work has the right to say what can be done with their work) - what many of us are against is the current implementation of copyright in perpetuity.

      Copyright needs to be a balance between the need of the creators to be able to have the ability to make money off of their works with the needs of the public to have unfettered access to those works - both to keep thous works from being lost and to have the ability to build upon those works.

      The fact that some of those works are being lost to us because the owners of those works cannot be found is something I personally find obscene.

      If a writer really feels that they need to own their works for long enough that their children will likely be dead (70 years after their death) - If they feel that that is the needed balance point for them to create - then let me speak for the world in saying don't bother.
    • by Interrobang ( 245315 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @01:03PM (#4361204) Journal
      First of all, I'm a writer. Secondly, I like to eat (my reason for ongoing membership in the Great International Tech Writer Conspiracy). Thirdly, I approve of limited term copyright in certain circumstances. (There are a lot of instances where copyright comes in handy; there are also a lot where copyright is just no damn good, but that's another story.)

      However, I don't think that I, my heirs and/or assigns, and/or my legal-entity estate, and/or the corporation which bought up my catalogue before or after my demise (particularly this latter) should be able to profit from my works forever, or even for three quarters of a century after I'm dead. There's no reason for it.

      There are a lot of good reasons against it, though. First of all, it isn't exactly fair for other people (and/or corporations) to get fat off my legacy (let them make their own art instead of just collecting royalty cheques on my work in perpetuity). Secondly, a lot of art (books, movies, short stories, etc.) is getting "lost" in ever-extending copyright boondoggles. Many early films are decaying in their canisters, unshown and unrestored, because the copyright holder is long dead, but the work hasn't passed into the public domain. Same with thousands and thousands of what would be "mid-list" books written since 1910. Thirdly, the commonweal (that is, society at large) deserves (and, at least in the US, is Constitutionally assigned) the right to use my artistic work (after a set period) to enrich itself, which I support.

      I won't need those hypothetical royalties, anyway. I'll be dead. Next question for the lawyerly types out there: Upon her demise, is it possible for an author to will her works into the public domain?

      • However, I don't think that I, my heirs and/or assigns, and/or my legal-entity estate, and/or the corporation which bought up my catalogue before or after my demise (particularly this latter) should be able to profit from my works forever, or even for three quarters of a century after I'm dead. There's no reason for it.

        As you mentioned, it's probably possible to assign copyright to the public domain (or the book-equivalent of the FSF; if it exists), instead of one of the aforementioned parties. People do it with other IP all the time (software).

        BUT, if you DO want to sell your catalogue (to eat), but don't want said party to retain copyright "forever", couldn't you just grant/sell them a license, with a specific sunset date, after which, it would revert to the "authority" denoted my my first paragraph?

        I, for one, probably won't give 2 shakes what happens to my intellectual property when I'm gone. Mostly 'cause I'd be dead.

        • Well, if you're cranky, like I am, you might not want to sell your catalogue (lease, rent out, first North American Reprint Rights, but not sell outright!), so willing the entire body of work into the public domain seems to me to be an equitable solution for everyone.

          Certainly would eliminate the need for (and the effect of) Boswells...

      • Next question for the lawyerly types out there: Upon her demise, is it possible for an author to will her works into the public domain?

        The problem is with publishers who have standard contracts for this sort of thing, and are not interested in what the author wants. I gather from things I've read that industry standard contracts are more of a problem for recording artists, but it wouldn't surprise me if the same is true for print publishing. Note what happened when the courts decided that publishers needed to separately by the on-line rights to a work, they just added this right to the standard contract. I doubt that any writers got any bigger cut from this change.

        It's pretty hard for the individual artist or writer to stand their ground in the face of this. The only way is to organize, and either collectively bargan for appropriate rights, or only work with publishers who give favorable terms. Many artists and writers need to wake up to the fact that they are the talent, and the publishers would have nothing without them.

        • The problem is with publishers who have standard contracts for this sort of thing, and are not interested in what the author wants.

          Writers may sell serial rights, reprint rights, or first-refusal rights (usually piecemeal or by the whole as specified in the standard contract), but most publishing venues do not and have not bought copyrights for 50 years or so. (Note to writers: Never, ever sell your copyright, unless you really want someone to 0wN you forever -- especially since you can sell reprint rights until the cows come home, if your work is bankable enough. I seem to remember Stephen King telling an anecdote about a story which netted him some hundreds of dollars initially eventually bringing in some tens of thousands due to reprints etc.)
          • That is very informative. I'm sure that quite a few young writers make this mistake. Are there any protections for when an artist is taken advantage of?

            It makes me wonder about what I have heard about standard contracts in the recording industry. The description of multi-record contracts implies that the record companies are buying rights to future works as well, and if it were only something like a first-refusal right, the artist would be able to sell recordings if the company did not want to release it. Is it because they are often involved in the production process as well?

            I also remember reading that movie producers won't go ahead without clear copyright to the screenplay. In this case, at least they are typically investing a lot of their own resources in the production process. With a record, all they are providing is finance and recording facilities (maybe), and the only other creative input is the recording engineers who are probably just on salary and not entitled to any of the royalties (or is this wrong?).

  • by TerraFrost ( 611855 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @12:36PM (#4360922)
    it's a shame they won't be giving away public domain software that wasn't originally released in the public domain... I mean, I can see books having really long copyrights, because people can enjoy those for a long time, but software? If Windows 3.1 was being enjoyed by any substantial number of people, Microsoft would still support it [], but they don't. Why on earth should people not be able to use this legally, without paying for it, for the next 120 years!? I don't really care if Mickey Mouse is public domain, or not, but for the love of god, why the heck isn't Windows 3.1 public domain!?
    • by Rayonic ( 462789 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @01:55PM (#4361670) Homepage Journal
      If Windows 3.1 was being enjoyed by any substantial number of people, Microsoft would still support it

      Windows 3.1 was never enjoyed by any substantial number of people.
    • Isn't it obvious? It would still compete with their current products, therefore they have an active interest in preventing you from using it. Your only choice is to pay again for the new version, whether you want it or not.

      More interesting is that a lot of software just disappears when the company that owned it goes belly up. Often, there are provisions to escrow the source so that it will continue to be available to customers who will now need to support themselves now that the company is gone. Wouldn't it be better to release it to the public domain or under GPL if the owner is no longer a viable entity?

    • Just like real estate is taxed annually to support the upkeep of the physical and social infrastructure (police, fire depts, schools, parks, roads, courts, etc), copyrights and patents should be taxed annually if they are kept out of the public domain because they too impose costs on society (limiting creative raw materials, clogging courts, deterring developers, forcing people to be extra careful in handling materials, forcing people to spend time getting permission to use works, preventing people from sharing, prison costs to house a million copyright infringing Americans perhaps put behind bars over the next decade or two like we pay the cost of putting an extra million or so drug using Americans behind bars in the last decade or two, etc.).

      One way to tax copyrights and patents is to let the rights holder each year set a current value at which they would allow anyone (any individual, business, or government) to pay directly to them them after which they are legally bound to put the work in the public domain -- then they pay some fraction (3 - 5%) of this amount annually as an intellectual property tax, apart from other taxes like income tax. To keep Windows 3.1 out of the public domain, Microsoft would have to set a self assessed value balancing a desire to keep the work out of the PD by risking someone will pay them the requested amount, and yet still wanting to minimize annual taxes. If Microsoft values Windows 3.1 at $100, someone would likely pay them that to PD it. If they value it at $100 billion, then they have to write a check annually for $3 billion in "intellectual property" taxes (or whatever the tax rate is -- might be higher for patents, lower for copyrights). Taxing so called "intellectual property" is a free market approach to force rights holders to stop squatting on works. Note that fees are now paid when copyrights and patents are renewed or registered, but those should not be seen as taxes, just processing fees, same as you pay to register a real estate deed transfer, but still need to pay annual property taxes. Note that this self assessed value might not be the same as what they might sell the copyright or patent for to someone else who wished to keep it proprietary and keep paying taxes on it. Also, the rights holder could change the self assessed value annually up or down as the market changed (so in 1995, Windows 3.1 might have been valued at $100 billion but in 2002 it might only be $1 billion).

      The benefits of this approach are more tax revenues for the government, a clear way to lookup if a work is still in copyright and who the owner is (just check the tax records, say by a Google search on a Library of Congress archive of all currently taxable works, with a legal requirement to submit a copy), and likely a sudden increase in PD materials for all artists to draw on. Basically, since rights holder lobbying has broken the bargain of finite time monopoly for future public domain use, this IP tax approach remakes this bargain.

  • WEBLOG! Say it with me, Jamie... its a WEBLOG!!!

    *wishing we could strike "blog" and the rest of the baby-'leet from the planet*

  • As a product of Palo Alto public education, just thought I should point out that this school is not in Palo Alto. The itinerary says it is East Palo Alto and the map shows Menlo Park. It may seem nit-picky, but aside from name and geography, there is nothing similar about Palo Alto and EPA, they are in two different counties for crimminy sakes. EPA was the murder capitol of the country in terms or per capita murders not too long ago, and even gave out free life insurance to their students. Palo Alto on the other hand is a city where the houses average close to a million dollars and the pretention in the air is thick enough to bottle and sell.
  • 20k Vs 1M (Score:2, Informative)

    by dlh ( 592854 )
    The webpage says 20,000 but the decals claim 1,000,000...

    If you click on that image, you get a close up []. At that level, you can see the word "soon" in parentheses.

    Also, if look to their menu at the top of the page, and follow the Million Book Project [] link, they mention how they're hoping to achieve one million books (mua ha ha) by 2005.

  • by reallocate ( 142797 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @12:49PM (#4361037)
    Leave Palo Alto today and arrive in Columbus on Friday, including stops at "retirement and mobile homes"?

    Glad I'm not driving.
  • by miracle69 ( 34841 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @12:57PM (#4361132)
    Will be the FBI tail who will interview the librarians at every stop and obtain full records of what everyone read.

    Perhaps the Supreme Court should look at that as well...

  • Will the Internet Archive Bookmobile [], from the same folks that bring us the Wayback Machine [], contain materials critical of Scientology []?

    Have they realized yet that they could respond to the Scientology barratry as gracefully and fairly as Google [] did?

    I hope their stance has changed, and I simply haven't heard about it. I have become so disappointed in the Internet Archive [], and the people associated with it who claim to be motivated by a dedication to intellectual freedom.

    • You shouldn't get too down on them for trying to avoid litigation. Unless you are willing to fund their legal bills related to taking a stand, you don't really have a right to complain.

      On the other hand, it isn't much of a Wayback Machine if it doesn't have anything before HTTP came alone. I seem to recall someone was trying to archive the bulk of all NetNews back in the 80s, not to mention all the BBS stuff. I don't see too much of this on their site.

  • hey this is the kind of thing that needs to be done more. Show that people want it there is a use and that copyrights are becoming terrible. Copyright costs are going up so it will be even harder and more expensive for a citizen to copyright and idea soon only corporations will be able to afford it. And maybe univesities which are also accostum to stealing copyrights.
  • by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @02:04PM (#4361752) Homepage Journal
    We're dancing around the real issue, here. It's far bigger than how long Disney gets to keep exclusive rights to Mickey Moust. Unfortunately far worse damage is being done than merely overextending Mickey's copyright.

    If retroactive copyright extension is upheld, then the public domain is essentially dead. At the very least, the last public domain music/literature ends up coming from early in the 20th century.

    If retroactove copyright is upheld, does anyone believe that some Senator won't be for-hire next time Steamboat Willie is about to expire, and again and again after that.

    At the moment, I don't give a %^&* about Mickey Mouse, nor of any of the $%^& Jack Valenti wants to protect "for Eternity minus one day." It's all the other stuff that gets dragged along with it. Essentially the cultural "abandonware" that sometimes becomes important much later. In the name of Mickey Mouse, we've prevented EVERYTHING from lapsing into the public domain.

    It stinks, and I'd like to see retroactive extension reversed. Even better, I'd like to see terms more "limited". Even though Jefferson himself did sign extensions, I don't believe he envisioned going beyond "threescore and ten". After all, that's Eternity, to me.

    If we can't have reversal or rollback, I'd prefer to require copyrights to need renewal. Abandonware (be it music, print, movie, or software) simply should fall into the public domain.
  • The Bookmobile (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jamesoutlaw ( 87295 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @02:14PM (#4361844) Homepage
    This is pretty much off topic, but when I was about 10 years old, my Grandmother started a library in her home.... every 6 weeks or so, the Bookmobile (in this case, a green van from the Warioto Regional Library System) would come by her house and swap out some of the books she had. I don't know exactly when and where that system started, but it's primary goal was to start and support libraries in isolated rural communities, where a large public library was not available. When my Grandmother was young, some country stores would have a few shelves of books from the Bookmobile and you'd find them in other places.

    She gave it up after nearly 20 years when she got married (again) and moved to another part of the county. At the peak, she had over 3,000 books available and several regular and casual readers. I think that library was the single most important part of my childhood education- I learned a lot more from those books than I did in school... I still remember how excited I was when I heard that the Bookmobile was coming. lol.

    Ah.... childhood memories.

Have you reconsidered a computer career?