In a “dramatic change of practice,” Cornell University Library has decided it will no longer require its users to seek permission to publish public domain items duplicated from its collections. I congratulate Cornell and hope that other libraries will follow this precedent.
“The threat of legal action, however,” noted Anne R. Kenney, Carl A. Kroch University Librarian, “does little to stop bad actors while at the same time limits the good uses that can be made of digital surrogates. We decided it was more important to encourage the use of the public domain materials in our holdings than to impose roadblocks.” The immediate impetus for the new policy is Cornell’s donation of more than 70,000 digitized public domain books to the Internet Archive (details at www.archive.org/details/cornell).
“Imposing legally binding restrictions on these digital files would have been very difficult and in a way contrary to our broad support of open access principles,” said Oya Y. Rieger, Associate University Librarian for Information Technologies. “It seemed better just to acknowledge their public domain status and make them freely usable for any purpose. And since it doesn’t make sense to have different rules for material that is reproduced at the request of patrons, we have removed permission obligations from public domain works.”