Wednesday, April 04, 2007

a copyright tool for bloggers

Stanford has a copyright renewal database. Offering simple and advanced searches, it shows renewals for books published between 1924 and 1963. The site says:
Determining the copyright status of books has become a pressing issue as libraries and business concerns develop plans to digitize older literatures and make public domain works widely available. In order to appropriately select materials and manage digital files, these organizations need to determine, efficiently and with some certainty, the copyright status of each work in a large collection. There is therefore significant interest in automating copyright analysis as much as possible.

Copyright status of works published in the US between 1923 and 1963 is of particular concern, as it is dependent on whether the original copyright was renewed. Changes in copyright law have removed this question for works published after 1963. The Copyright Office has never made available in machine-readable form the renewals it received between 1950 and 1977, which would generally cover renewals for books published between 1923 and 1950. This has made it difficult for libraries and archives to determine which books are in the public domain.

Several organizations have taken steps to make the Copyright Office's records more accessible. Most noteworthy is Project Gutenberg, which scanned and transcribed the printed renewal records. You can view their work here. This database builds on their work, making the text searchable by field in a single file. We are also grateful for the early efforts of Michael Lesk in the creation of this database.

We welcome and encourage comments on the database. Please send comments to Mimi Calter at
So, suppose I'm interested to know whether copyright protection still extends to a book published in 1946 by Julia Pettee, I'd put her name in the search box and this is what I'd find:
Title: Subject headings: the history and theory of the alphabetical subject approach to books
Registration Date: 16May46
Renewal Date: 13Jun73
Registration Number: A3388
Renewal Id: R553561
Renewing Entity: Mary Ellen Pettee (C)
Old Class Code: C

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