Thursday, September 07, 2006

Google Books and Federal Documents

The Google Books blog today announces with some fanfare that Diane Publications, a publishing house that specializes in (re)publishing Federal documents, is making all of its documents available for full viewing. The publisher states:
The free flow of government information to a democratic society is utmost in our mind.
So I did a publisher search on Google and found a publication called "Marijuana Use in America" -- which is a reprint of a 104th Congress hearing, and on each page there is a watermark that says:
Copyrighted material

Now you all know that this is wrong, because Federal documents are in the public domain, but no where does the Google blog or the publisher mention the "PD" word. This troubles me because it will now require effort to undo this misinformation.

And, of course, just to add salt to the wound, I was easily able to find a book that the Diane Publishing company sells for $30 that you can get from GPO for $2.95. This really hurts.


Colleen said...

My question on this is the publisher copyrighting the data or that specific presentation of the data? There is something in the law that says facsimiles of items out of Copyright can be copyright not for their data but for that iteration (sorry, I am unable to find the rule quickly). Could it be DIANE is copyrighting its reproduction?

This always struck me as an interesting part of the law, as it protected those who produced facsimiles, but never prevented another from creating their own facsimile at the same time. The ease of digital reproduction today means we can have several facsimiles of the same item on the market at once and each is copyrighted, but only for their reproduction. So another publisher could also put out US docs as facsimiles and charge for them. Or the US government could mount their own digital reproductions.

Karen Coyle said...

I don't know what part of the law you are referring to. As far as I know, you cannot claim copyright in a copy of a public domain document -- at least, not in the US. There is often the misconception that you hold copyrights in your digital copy, but lawyers usually cite Feist to dispute that one. (Think about it this way: if you make a photocopy of an article, do you have any intellectual property rights in the photocopy? No, you may own the paper it's on, but you can take no credit for the content of the article.) BTW, there's been a discussion recently on the CNI-copyright list about people falsely claiming copyright in public domain materials. There does not seem to be a penalty.

Julian said...

One might commonly find this issue come up in the law publishing world. A good example is the United States Code. GPO prints its own copy, but it is almost never the first copy available to the public. West and Lexis publish their own versions of the U.S. Code (United States Code Annotated and United States Code Service, respectively), in which the publishers add annotations to the original text. Their versions of the U.S. Code are usually available before the GPO version. Because the new work adds value to the original, and the added value is not in the pbulic domain, I believe that the "unofficial," annotated versions can be copyrighted by the publishers.

Karen Coyle said...

Julian, yes, law publishing is a great example of this. My understanding is that the publishers can copyright only what they have added, which is what has led to Westlaw (I believe) having copyrighted the page numbers where the cites appear. No matter how much "stuff" you add, the public domain portion remains in the public domain. This is why "reprintings" of classic works almost always have a preface by someone current -- the publisher can claim copyright in the preface, but the copyright notice tends to mislead readers that the publisher holds copyright in the entire tome.