Cornell University Library Removes All Restrictions on Use of Public Domain Reproductions
In a dramatic change of practice, Cornell University Library has announced it will no longer require its users to seek permission to publish public domain items duplicated from its collections. Instead, users may now use reproductions of public domain works made for them by the Library or available via Web sites, without seeking any further permission.
The Library, as the producer of digital reproductions made from its collections, has in the past licensed the use of those reproductions. Individuals and corporations that failed to secure permission to repurpose these reproductions violated their agreement with the Library. "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."
Institutional restrictions on the use of public domain work, sometimes labeled "copyfraud," have been the subject of much scholarly criticism. The Cornell initiative goes further than many other recent attempts to open access to public domain material by removing restrictions on both commercial and non-commercial use. Users of the public domain works are still expected to determine on their own that works are in the public domain where they live. They also must respect non-copyright rights, such as the rights of privacy, publicity, and trademark. The Library will continue to charge service fees associated with the reproduction of analog material or the provision of versions of files different than what is freely available on the Web. All library Web sites will be updated to reflect this new policy during 2009.
The new Cornell policy can be found at cdl.library.cornell.edu/guidelines.html.
About Cornell University Library One of the leading academic research libraries in the United States, Cornell University Library is a highly valued partner in teaching, research and learning at Cornell University. The Library offers cutting-edge programs and a full spectrum of services, rare books and manuscripts and a growing network of digital resources. The Library’s outstanding collections – from medieval manuscripts to hip hop and from ancient Chinese texts to comic books – preserve the past and pave the way for future scholarship. To learn more about Cornell University Library, visit library.cornell.edu.