Feeds

Copyfraud: Poisoning the public domain

How web giants are stealing the future of knowledge

Boost IT visibility and business value

Copyfraud: How to do it

Committing copyfraud is astonishingly easy and costs nothing. I can borrow a public domain book from any library and scan it, or I could download the text from Project Gutenberg. I reformat it as a PDF, mark it with a copyright date, register it as a new book with an ISBN, then submit it to Amazon.com for sale. I may not even need to print and bind any books, I can offer it through Amazon's Booksurge print-on-demand service, or as an ebook on Kindle. Once the book is listed for sale, I can submit it to Google Books for inclusion in its index. I could easily publish thousands of books; most would never sell, but with zero up-front cost, any sale is pure profit.

But why would Google and Amazon permit this exploitation of the public domain? It could be argued it would be better to index these copyfraud editions. Perhaps it's better to have access to a fraudulently copyrighted, paid edition rather than no edition at all. I disagree. Google Books has structured its online service with no regard to preventing abuses, and so has created a financial incentive for some publishers to game the system. Google also has its own incentive, as it earns a small kickback on every sale referred to Amazon or other booksellers. Essentially, this system has become a successful inversion of the "micropayments" model, Google is profiting by administering millions of small transactions which divert vast sums of money to undeserving, unscrupulous publishers. Perhaps we should call it "microfraud".

Just as scholars were discovering their restricted access to these public domain works, Law Professor Jason Mazzone released a groundbreaking article, "Copyfraud", examining the problem and its impact. Mazzone asserts this type of copyfraud is targeted at universities. A recent infringement lawsuit denied universities Fair Use access to copyrighted materials, and has made them reluctant to use materials bearing even a fraudulent copyright. Some publishers profit from muddling the status of the copyright, so universities must force students to purchase documents they could otherwise obtain for free, driving up the cost of higher education."

Corporate interests like movie studios have an incentive to enforce legal access to the public domain, it is their source material, and they have an army of lawyers to back them up. But scholars have no such resources. A penniless student may be able to afford a $25 copyfraud edition, but not an expensive lawyer to sue to protect his rights.

Professor Mazzone also discusses another interesting case where a claim of copyright can be attached as a condition of access. This is the "sole-source monopoly", where only a single copy of a public domain work exists. I have previously discussed this issue in my article 'How To Copyright Michelangelo', Astonishingly, this pseudo-copyright has also afflicted the Leader of the Free World, President Obama.

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
'Blow it up': Plods pop round for chat with Commonwealth Games tweeter
You'd better not be talking about the council's housing plans
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
Government's 'Google Review' copyright rules become law
Welcome in a New Era ... of copyright litigation
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
Adam Afriyie MP: Smart meters are NOT so smart
Mega-costly gas 'n' 'leccy totting-up tech not worth it - Tory MP
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.