If the Founders of the U.S. had their way and copyright law had not been updated since their time, almost everything published in the 20th century would now be in the public domain. Think about that for a second and what you would, potentially, have access to for free.
Mind blowing, right?
But because copyright law has changed and, most recently, in 1998 with the Copyright Term Extension Act, also known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, copyright was extended to the life of the author plus 70 years. As a result, anything published after 1923 is still under copyright protection.
However, Elizabeth Townsend Gard, a copyright scholar at Tulane University, and some of her enterprising law students have found a loophole. This loophole is called the “Library Public Domain.” It allows libraries to scan and make available materials published between 1923 and 1941 that are no longer being actively sold.
Gard and her students used this loophole to start what they have named The Sonny Bono Memorial Collection, a nice dig at Bono who was the one who introduced the bill to congress. Sadly, Bono died quite some time ago so we are left to appreciate the humor without the satisfaction of him knowing about it.
The Collection is being hosted by the Internet Archive. While currently small, Townsend promises that with some automation, they expect to add another 10,000 books in the near future. Libraries are also being encouraged to look at their collections and consider contributing even more.
How awesome is this?
A quick browse through the collection reveals a few delightful looking pulp fiction titles with lurid covers that made me laugh (Impatient Virgins!). There is also a young readers book called Frog the Horse that Knew No Master. There are some wonderfully outdated science books, a biography of Winston Churchill, a book about Ralph Waldo Emerson, and my favorite, a dictionary of American slang that is most “evil” (def: anything pleasant).
Have fun browsing!