Public Domain Parasites: An Ongoing Series

Editor’s Note; The Amazon free ebook story today inspired me to go dig up this post Mike wrote back in June. This is the real problem, not people selling pd ebooks.

I got this tweet:

Just finished reading THE LODGER by Marie Belloc Lowndes, possibly the first serial killer novel (published in 1914) #fridayreadsFri Jun 25 12:38:06 via Seesmic

Sarah Weinman

Published in 1914? That’s public domain. So I go off to Google Books and BAM!

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There is proof of what I stated in The Looting Of Our Public Domain.

This 1914 book was re-Copyrighted in 2009 and no free editions are now available in Google Books — only this one, which must be paid for.

And who are the bastards behind this?

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So, they’ve taken a free book that belongs to all of us and have turned it into their private property!

They can go to hell. I won’t even link to these scum.

Until they’re sleazy enough to issue a DMCA Takedown Notice, this book is still available for free over at Project Gutenberg:

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This is the link. Go get it. Share it with anyone who wants it. If anyone brings up they want to buy the book, make sure to tell them you have a copy and that the book is rightfully free!

As more examples of this come to my attention, I will do posts about them.

The public domain belongs to all of us — not to private capital!


Feedbooks has added it too. Go here. And it now has a cover:

reposted with permission from Mike Cane’s Xblog


  1. RobBrown1 December, 2010

    Can you explain what you mean by “re-Copyrighted”? I know that (say) a music performance of public-domain music can be copyrighted because the performance contains artistic expression, but surely producing a book is merely reproduction and isn’t copyrightable?

    Also, doesn’t Google carry some responsibility here, for not making a free edition available?

    1. Nate the great1 December, 2010

      You’re correct. What they’re doing here is lying and claiming that they own the copyright on the title.

      And as for Google, they’re too big to care about the little things.

      1. Stormrider2 December, 2010

        Wrong, Nate, if I take a public domain title, say from Google books and revise it, spellcheck, get rid of typos, etc etc. I am definitely entitled to claim that I have a copyright on this because I put a whole lot of work behind and made this my own “version” of the title. Believe me, every single lawyer will tell you the same. And, even from an ethical point of view, why should I not make money from this and get a refund for my work?

        @Mike, by the way, I like your postings generally very much but this is pretty weird and – as far as it refers to the public-domain-belongs-to-everyone-and-you-cannot-make-profit-with-it-thing – way off reality.

        1. Nate the great2 December, 2010

          Nope. Not in the US , you’re not. Admittedly, in the UK there is a formatting and layout copyright, but that still doesn’t apply to the content. Anyone can grab the content and make another ebook. No company can pull something from the public domain simply becuase they put work in formatting.

          And in any case, what we’re seeing here is that Google did all the work and someone else swooped in, claimed copyright, and made Google take the book down. That other company did not do the work; Google did.

      2. RobynB3 December, 2010

        It makes me sad to think that Google doesn’t care about the little things anymore. And it makes me sad to know there are people out there who don’t care how they make a buck. (Call me Pollyanna, if you want!)

  2. Fbone2 December, 2010

    The book is in public domain in the US but not in the UK or any other country with life+70 copyright terms.

    1. Nate the great2 December, 2010

      Yes.One detail not mentioned here is that Google operates under US copyright laws, so that’s the pd that matters.

  3. trav2 December, 2010

    I’m not sure I follow your logic here. A 2009 Publishing Date does not equal a 2009 Copyright re-newal. Did they, in fact, re-new the Copyright? Or did they just take a public domain file and re-package it?

    And I always thought that works pubbed pre-1923, with no renewal made by their 26th year, could be re-newed. At least, I know the 1998 Copyright Extension (the one for 20 years) said something along those lines.

    I’m just trying to understand…

  4. Booksprung » The public domain hobgoblin and how he steals your gold2 December, 2010

    […] leave “gold coin” considering the current global economic crisis), and you’ve got this post by Mike Cane, republished yesterday at The Digital Reader. In it, Cane describes a public domain book that is no […]

  5. David Gray3 December, 2010

    If a work is in the public domain, anyone may sell an edition of it, or offer it for free, or both.

    Dover Publications has since the 1940s made a very good business out of selling printed versions of public domain works. They have millions of satisfied customers.

    A publisher publishing a public-domain work might offer added value, such as a new introduction, or an index (which could be copyrighted by the publisher), or a better design, or cleaner text. It would be fair for such a publisher to charge for added value.

    As you point out, other publishers may offer versions of the work for free.

    The fact that one publisher charges for its edition does not make that publisher a “parasite”. No person is compelled to buy that publisher’s edition of the work. But if someone does find value in that publisher’s edition, then that person may choose whether to buy it or not.

    I can get water essentially for free out of my kitchen faucet. Does that make companies that offer bottled water “parasites” or somehow deceitful? Of course not.

    If someday in the future the only editions we have of public-domain literature are Project Gutenberg-type editions–unattractive, filled with typographical and other errors–we will all be poorer for it.


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