The Anderson/Bear folks posted this a couple of places, and it was picked up a few other places. Here is the text of the most recent substantial message I sent them on the topic: http://cand.pglaf.org/bear-response.txt . The group has not provided the author/title (or PG eBook number) of any title they think was wrongly determined to be non-renewed, other than those mentioned in the email. They seem to have some theories about what is eligible for renewal, or who can renew, but these are not contested by Project Gutenberg (in fact, our policy is to NOT to question whether renewals were fully compliant with the law, nor whether a person had the correct standing to renew).
The issue is whether a renewal was made. For The Escape, part 1 was republished with a different title, complete with part 2. Part 1 was not individually renewed, but the newly titled complete work was. We were unaware of the subsequent retitled republication, so did not find the renewal. For the purposes of copyright and renewal, a major outcome of the legal advice we received concerning The Escape is that serialized works are treated as single acts of authorship. Thus, renewal of a part may be considered to apply to the whole -- provided it happens within a reasonable timespan (we have been advised to use +/- four years).
The Project Gutenberg Copyright How-To has details on our procedures, although the Rule 6 how-to there (for non-renewals) is older than the version we used for the original Anderson/Escape non-renewal determination. We are working on a revision that will include additional research for serials, and a few other variations like republication with different titles. The how-to is here: www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Gutenberg:Copyright_How-To
For those who aren't aware, Project Gutenberg is classified in the US as a 501(c)(3) charity, as a library. With over 35,000 published titles, and well over 50,000 unique instances of copyright research (thousands for our Rule 6), it's not surprising that we make occasional errors. To date (I've been doing this aspect of volunteer work for Project Gutenberg since around 1999), we've changed our stance on fewer than 1/2 dozen public domain determinations. Not perfect, but I believe we're doing a good job overall, and have some very solid procedures by copyright experts over the years.
I first initiated our Rule 6 nearly 10 years ago. This was because I saw that of all the books and serials published in the US from 1923-1963 (when renewal was required for copyright to still apply), 85--90% were never renewed. The US Library of Congress does annual reports on this. Statistically, that means there a million or so items from 1923-1964 whose copyright expired after a 28-year term. These items have been in the public domain in the US since 1992 or earlier (1964+28), and many are out of print. As a policy decision, Project Gutenberg decided it was worth the risk of occasionally missing a renewal, to be able to affirmatively identify the many items for which no renewal occurred. I still believe this decision was the right one.
For those who are paying attention to Project Gutenberg news today, there was a story in the Washington Post that, more or less, accused Amazon of abusing their customers by selling public domain Project Gutenberg works, with DRM added, for a fee. The article is here: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward/2010/11/amazon_charges_kindle_users_fo.html . (I exchanged several emails with the author.) It's a weird coincidence that within the same 24 hour period there is another story that basically accuses Project Gutenberg of stealing.
Enough for now. I'm going back to reading Marusek's "Mind over Ship" (sequel to the excellent "Counting Heads"), one of the hundreds of printed books I purchase every year. Maybe before I shut down for the evening I'll post Doctorow's "Makers" to Project Gutenberg. Oh, yeah: I promised I'd buy our Webmaster a Kindle, so he can insure our ePub files display correctly. Lots of GOOD stuff to do!
Thanks to the many posters for their thoughtful comments. As should be clear, copyright is a difficult issue. One thing I'd like to encourage is to give some thought to preparation for 2018. Sometime before then, we can expect a major extension to automatic (no renewal necessary) copyright terms to 95 (individual) or 120 (corporate) years. The last extension (Sonny Bono's last act) was published within the same 24-hour period as President Clinton was impeached, and received essentially no contemporary news coverage. We can expect The Mouse and other self-interested well-monied parties are already planning the next extension, to insure that nothing since 1923 or later ever enters the public domain. Rule 6 is one of our only post-1923 sources for public domain materials, but since renewals are no longer required it only takes us to 1964.