Announcing BookLiberator Beta.

BookLiberator Beta, with cameras and book, on table.

Announcing BookLiberator Beta — the affordable, low-tech book digitizer that's made of wood, looks good in your living room or library, and can scan 600-900 pages per hour!

Order now from our online store

We're very pleased to announce the availability of BookLiberator Beta kits. This is a project we've been working on for some time, and it's very important to us.

We've always known that whenever people feel the effects of copyright restrictions directly, in their own lives, they inevitably start questioning those restrictions. The goal of the BookLiberator project is to enable people to encounter those restrictions more often, in more situations, so they'll ask the same questions we ask here at Question Copyright.

BookLiberator Beta is the early-adopter release of what will eventually be BookLiberator 1.0. Please note that the Beta version comes without cameras — the 1.0 version will have cameras, but first we have to learn which cameras work best, and that's where the early adopters come in. Any modern consumer-grade digital cameras will fit, as long as they accept a standard screw-in camera mount. Once the brave beta testers have reported field results, we'll be able to offer appropriate camera options for the 1.0 manufacturing run.

If all this sounds like something you want to get involved in, please see for more information. Remember, any scans you make now can be reprocessed as many times in the future as you want; as software improves and becomes better able to extract text from images, you can just rerun your old images through newer software.

Video of a BookLiberator usage demonstration, at a HOPE conference:

There are many perfectly lawful uses of a book digitizer, of course. We encourage people to use their BookLiberators to liberate text and images from the printed page in

  • Public domain works;
  • Works under Free Culture licenses;
  • Works for which one has (for whatever reason) special exemption from the usual restrictions on copying, sharing, and sharing modified copies;
  • Works for which the digitization constitutes "fair use".

We're glad the BookLiberator can be used for all those things, but that's not really why we're selling it. We're selling it because we want people to have one more route by which to experience copyright restrictions. We want people to look longingly at their bookshelf and be reminded of why they can't work with digital copies of most of their books. We want them to realize that the only thing preventing them from liberating that text from the tree pulp on which it rests is an increasingly problematic law that does much to support monopoly-based distribution industries while doing little to support artists (indeed, while often harming artists — learn more here).

We don't endorse the use of the BookLiberator to engage in unauthorized copying, and we strongly discourage you from using it that way. Our goal is for people to not make such copies — to feel the handcuffs that prevent them from doing so, and to debate whether those handcuffs are a good idea.

Join us in feeling the pain. Order your BookLiberator Beta kit today.


Copyright as Censorship in Science: Striped Nanoparticle Edition

Striped nanoparticle images, except for the censored parts.A band of researchers has been tirelessly trying to demonstrate that a body of scientific work which rests on a paper from over 10 years ago is completely wrong. The only problem is, their argument isn't being allowed to stand or fall on its merits — instead, copyright restrictions are interfering with their ability to make their case at all.

The "stripy nanoparticle" saga begins with a 2004 publication in the journal Nature Materials (DOI: 10.1038/nmat1116) from Francesco Stellacci's lab, describing a method for synthesizing small gold nanoparticles — particles on the order of 10 nanometers in size — that are coated with alternating "striped" domains of two different chain-like molecules attached to their surface.

While it wasn't surprising that those specific types of chain-like molecules attach to the surface of the small gold nanoparticles, it was surprising (to some scientists) that the chains would order themselves into such organized striped patterns. So surprising that Raphael Levy, a researcher from the University of Liverpool, took a critical look at the data behind the conclusions in the 2004 paper. He believes that the evidence for the existence of these striped nanoparticles is the result of spurious observations that likely originate from poor experimental technique and cherry-picking of statistical data.

After extensive delays in the peer reviewed publication process, Levy's first response was eventually published in the journal Small (DOI: 10.1002/smll.201001465), three years after the response had been first submitted to Nature Materials for publication. It was around then that Levy began blogging to focus attention on the topic as well as on more generalized shortcomings of scientific publishing process. The blog attracted discussion from a number of other researchers and spurred writeups in the scientific press.

Since that time, Julian Stirling has authored a paper along with Levy and a group of other researchers that has provided a comprehensive critical analysis of  Stellacci's 2004 paper and related work that followed.  Stirling et al.'s "Critical assessment of the evidence for striped nanoparticles" was deposited on the open access preprint server arXiv, and became the most discussed paper on the popular post-publication peer review site PubPeer. The paper was also accepted for publication in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

What does this have to do with copyright?

In order to make their case to the reader, Stirling et al. need to reuse figures from Stellacci's earlier work, so that the comparisons and alleged errors can be clearly communicated. The problem is that publishing houses like the the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), John Wiley & Sons, Nature Publishing Group and the American Chemical Society must grant permission to make use of these figures for PLOS to republish them, as PLOS publishes under the freedom-friendly Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license, and its readers depend on what they receive from PLOS ONE being reuseable under terms no more restrictive than that.

At the time of writing, only the RSC has granted permission. Wiley has responded in the comments at Stirling's blog, saying that while they'll allow re-use with no fee under standard copyright, they won't simply relicense the images to be compatible with PLOS ONE's non-restrictive distribution policy.  (What Wiley actually says is that they are "unable to change [the images'] copyright status", which is simply false.)  It isn't yet clear how this will be resolved.  Offering the image at no fee for this one use is not a particularly helpful move on Wiley's part: the restrictions would still be quite onerous, because Wiley's one-off exception would not be passed along to PLOS ONE's readers — instead, they too would have to ask Wiley for permission if they wanted to use the figures in a scientific critique... and so on, ad infinitum.  Creating a gatekeeper does not always create tolls, but it does force everyone to at least stop at the tollbooth before proceeding, and that's exactly the problem here.  Wiley's "rights department" (that is, their restrictions department) has inserted itself into scientific discussions where it has nothing to contribute and can only hamper the flow of communication.

Stirling et al.'s frustration is tangible — and they clearly understand that the culprit is censorship implemented via copyright:

"The traditional publishers who published the work we're critiquing can't censor our paper now, can they? It isn't their journal, so they can't refuse to review/publish it ... But they still have one trick up their sleeve. Copyright. They own the copyright on the papers we criticise, and many of the new open-access journals they hate so much use Creative Commons licensing. They have the right to refuse permission to reuse parts of their figures. But just how can anyone write a self-contained critical article about data misrepresented in figures without being able to include at least some of the original results for critique and analysis?"

     -- from

"It beggars belief that the scientific publishing system is so screwed up that this type of farce can happen."

     -- from

"Dear publishers (@plosone, @WileyExchanges @NatureMaterials @J_A_C_S) I don't want to become a lawyer - plse just sort this mess - quick"

     -- from

These events clearly illustrate how copyright restrictions are not just a problem for cultural production. Copyright interferes just as much with the clear and referential communication needed for the healthy functioning of the scientific process. The point is not that Levy and his colleagues are right or wrong. The point is that whether they are right or wrong should be a matter of science, not censorship.


Explaining to STM That There Are Not 100 Kinds of "Open".

globeQuestion Copyright recently signed on to an open letter to the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM), calling on them to withdraw the counterproductive model licenses they have been promoting for use in publishing research articles.  (STM has written a response, but unfortunately it does not seriously address the very real issues raised in the original letter.)

To understand the problem with STM's model licenses, you need to understand the problem of "license proliferation".  License proliferation is the phenomenon of institutions coming up with their own slightly different -- or sometimes significantly different -- copyright licenses, each with its own idiosyncratic terminology and conditions.  The problem with this is that if everyone distributes work under a custom license, no one can really re-use or redistribute anyone's works in practice (even when redistribution is the licensor's explicit goal), because it takes too much time to read and evaluate all those different licenses.  Furthermore,  such licenses are often not compatible with each other, which makes remixing difficult or impossible.

Creative Commons came along and basically solved this problem years ago.  They offer a very small set of easily comprehensible, professionally drafted licenses, several of which are genuine Free Culture licenses and entirely suitable for scholarly publishing.  STM should just recommend that research articles be published under those licenses.  There is no need for this new set of model licenses -- that just creates a problem for everyone.  Creative Commons already solved this; STM should not help unsolve it.

The original letter (which has 77 signatories and counting) explains this very well:

The Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers has recently released a set of model licenses for research articles. In their current formulation, these licenses would limit the use, reuse and exploitation of research. They would make it difficult, confusing or impossible to combine these research outputs with other public resources and sources of knowledge to the benefit of both science and society. There are many issues with these licenses, but the most important is that they are not compatible with any of the globally used Creative Commons licenses. For this reason, we call on the STM Association to withdraw them and commit to working within the Creative Commons framework.

Think of the Creative Commons licenses as an immune response to the disease of current U.S. and international copyright laws.  Those laws are maximally restrictive by default, and lead, as diseases often do, to very bad consequences.  By using Creative Commons licenses, particularly the fully-freedom-compatible ones, you can ensure that you and your works are never part of the problem: you will not transmit the disease to others.

If the CC licenses are an immune response, then STM's suggestion that different, special licenses are somehow necessary for scholarly publishing is an allergic response.  Like many allergic responses, if it continues unchecked, it can grow to be as bad as the original disease.



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