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Malamud takes on LC Copyright Database

Carl Malamud, FGI’s open govt hero, has done it again! In a recent letter to Marybeth Peters, the United States Register of Copyrights, Malamud and others have asked Peters to provide bulk access to a “vital public database” — the copyright catalog of monographs, documents, and serials.

The letter recognizes that “sales of the database may be a significant source of revenue for the Copyright Office” and that “budgetary requirements or the assent of congressional oversight committees” might make it difficult to make the data available right away and offers an short term alternative of “…we would like to offer to set up a collective fund for purchase of a single copy of the database, making it available for anyone to use. This would provide a public distribution channel….” The letter also says, “We ask only that you help us clarify that there is no copyright on the database so that we may freely redistribute it.”

The letter was signed by the Digital Library Federation, Harvard University Library, Public Knowledge, Stanford University Library, the Association of Research Libraries, the Internet Archive and others. For more see:

The copyright catalog of monographs, documents, and serials is not a product, it is fuel that makes the copyright system work. Anybody should be able to download the entire database to their desktop, write a better search application, or use this public domain information to research copyright questions.

A price tag of $86,625 places this database beyond the reach of university libraries, small businesses that wish to provide a better copyright search service, and academics or citizens wishing to analyze the copyright registration process. Additionally, setting copyright restrictions on the copyright database, a “work of the United States Government,” runs directly counter to the well-established principle that such works shall be in the public domain.

I hope LC and the Copyright Office take this letter seriously and releases the database to the original owner, the public. However, I am not sure whether Ms. Peters will be amenable considering the post about her on BoingBoing a few days ago.

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