Going to Town on Warner/Chappell in the "Happy Birthday" case.

Happy Birthday cupcake.We've written about the Happy Birthday lawsuit here before.  Now it seems the case has reached a turning point -- a "smoking gun" has been found, thanks to research in the files of the pro-monopoly side, Warner/Chappell: a copy of the "Happy Birthday" lyrics from 1922, that is, before the present-day copyright horizon.

The story (courtesy of Hollywood Reporter) is pretty fascinating in itself, but let's go to town on the amazing claim Warner/Chappell seems to be making in response to this new discovery.  After all, what is QuestionCopyright.org for, if not going to town on the most absurd claims of the monopoly industry?

What Warner/Chapell seems to be saying is that even if it were found that the song lyrics existed in their current form in 1922 -- that is, earlier than the current "earliest copyright horizon" -- the fact that the 1922 copy of those lyrics might have been, at that time, a possible copyright infringement (which it obviously wasn't, but we'll leave that aside in order to grant the widest possible latitude to Warner/Chapell's argument, for our own entertainment if nothing else) means that maybe the copyrights claimed later in 1935 are somehow still valid.  Or something?

But the mere existence of a version of a work before the horizon means that, even if that copy were in an copyright-infringing state at the time, whatever copyright it was infringing then must, clearly, have expired by now.  Because otherwise, the copyright horizon is not really a copyright horizon.  Unless you live in a world where time runs backwards and sideways, as Warner/Chapell perhaps does.

What this lawsuit really shows is what we've been arguing is the problem with broad information monopoly rights in general: once the state creates a monopoly, it creates a monopolist who owns it -- or in this case imagines themselves to own it -- and that monopolist will fight to the bitter end to keep it, against all reason and all evidence.  There is normally no representative of the public who has as clear and focused an interest in a given monopoly as its putative owner does; we just got lucky in this case that a filmmaker decided to take an interest in this one song.

Who will stand up for all the other songs?


Nina Paley's "Ask Me Anything" at Reddit -- Art, Truth, Copyright, Censorship.

Nina PaleyQCO Artist-in-Residence Nina Paley did an AMA ("Ask Me Anything") on Reddit today, for "Fair Use" Week:

"Cartoonist, animator, and activist Nina Paley here to talk about making art and fair use!"

She was joined by lawyer Sherwin Siy of Public Knowledge.

My favorite exchange from the AMA:

Q: Hi Nina! Big fan of Sita Sings the Blues. As you may probably be aware, the right-wing moral policing is at an all time high in India. What are your thoughts on censorship and its implications on artists?

A: Censorship: all the more reason to keep my work Free, open and decentralized. Centralized distribution is easy to censor. Decentralized distribution is impossible to censor.

Q: Is there such a thing as good censorship?

A: http://mimiandeunice.com/2011/06/07/censorship-vs-copyright/

See the full AMA here.


One more for 2014: Donate to Snowdrift.coop's launch campaign.

Snowdrift.coop logo.Snowdrift.coop has been quietly building a platform for sustainably supporting libre digital works -- "a matching patronage system funding freely-licensed works", in their words.  Snowdrift is trying something different: instead of the all-or-nothing, one-time lump sum style of funding that gets lots of projects out of the starting gate but doesn't stay with them as they grow, Snowdrift has developed a peer-matched patronage model in which people say "I'll give a certain amount more for every person who joins me in funding this project, up my personal limit".  See their illustrated introduction for an overview, or their detailed explanation.

Snowdrift.coop is now very close to launch, and they've been running a funding campaign to get the last pieces put in place.  They've received generous support from Linux Fund and Aleph Objects, among others (I just donated $50 myself).  If you think a sustainable funding platform for free/libre digital works is a good idea -- and I'm betting you probably do, if you're here reading this -- then please donate to the Snowdrift.coop launch campaign today (and select a donation reward, including customized Snowdrift snow gear at a high enough donation level).

Yes, Snowdrift is an experiment, but it's a good idea and has the chance to create a new world of sustainable crowdfunding for libre works.  If it succeeds, we all win.

Here's that donation page again.

Happy New Year!


Give to Internet Archive in 2014, while a supporter is matching donations at 2-to-1!

Internet Archive logo.For the remainder of 2014 -- just a few hours, depending on your time zone -- a supporter is matching donations to the Internet Archive at 2-to-1.  If you give $50, that's $150 total for the Archive.

Please donate now.  The Internet Archive saves the Internet... literally!  From founder Brewster Kahle's end-of-year message:

I’ve always believed in libraries. The digital world is no different. We need a library for the digital generation. A place we can all go to learn and explore.


Our children will learn from whatever is accessible to them. As parents, teachers and librarians, we should put the best we have to offer within reach of our children. At the Internet Archive we are striving to make our cultural treasures accessible to everyone. Forever.


Technologically—we now have the possibility of doing this--making knowledge massively accessible.


At the Internet Archive, we’ve preserved 430 billion web pages. People download 20 million books on our site each month. We get more visitors in a year than most libraries do in a lifetime. The key is to keep improving—and to keep it free. That’s where you can help us.


The Internet Archive is a non-profit library built on trust. We don’t run ads. We don’t sell your personal information—in fact, to protect your privacy we don’t even save your IP address. But we still need to pay for servers, staff and bandwidth.

I just gave $100, resulting in $300 for the Internet Archive.  Please make me look cheap!


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 BookLiberator.com 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.