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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Samantha Bee answers a govdocs reference question

Did you ever have one of those reference questions that involves a government-collected statistic that you just know must exist, but you cannot find? We all have. Samantha Bee of the Daily show looks at GAO and CDC documents and even the National Sheriff’s Association. She interviews Nate Silver! But, she discovers, some data do not exist…

  • A Shot in the Dark. Samantha Bee attempts to uncover statistics about the excessive use of lethal force by the police, only to discover that this data is mysteriously nonexistent. Aired: 10/07/14 (7:09).

New Best. Title. Ever.

We hadn’t added much to our Best. Titles. Ever. humor page lately. I’m happy to end that dry spell with a document that is both humorously titled and useful:

Hills Bros. coffee can chronology : field guide, published by U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management in 2006.

Why does the Bureau of Land Management care about what coffee cans looked like in the 1910s? For a very good reason. According to the document’s introduction, Hill’s Brothers Coffee cans are a great way to date digs dating back to the late 1800s because of the tendency of Hills Brothers to change their can designs every so often.

I’d love to copy and paste their explanation into this post, but I can’t. The BLM authors chose to lock their PDF into a form that cannot be copied from. You can make copies of the entire file and you can print pages from it, but you can’t copy and paste the text nor can you extract the pictures from it. Yet as a public domain government document, there is no legal reason to impose these kind of restrictions. This is part of the future we fear, one of crippled electronic documents that aren’t as reusable as they could be. Today BLM has decided we can’t copy and paste from a public domain document. Maybe another agency will decide tomorrow that we shouldn’t be able to print their document. That’s what faces us unless the federal government has a consistent policy that renounces Digital Rights Management (DRM).

**Addition by James: I’ve attached a PDF of the document from which I was able to copy and paste. Please download this copy and leave a comment if you’re *not* able to copy and paste.
**Addition by Daniel: Thanks for the demonstrating the power of a polite request. It’s nice to see responsive and helpful gov’t agencies.
**Further addition by James: While I believe in the power of a polite request, this one was Jim working his magic to subvert the copy-blocking. He saved the original pdf, printed/saved as pdf (macs let you convert to pdf from the print menu!), jiggered a few things and then the DRM was foiled. That’s the PDF doc that is attached to this discussion 🙂