Spending a Penny in the Public Domain.
By Rab Christie.
Public Domain means we can all read it freely doesn’t it? It means something is free from copyright restrictions right? And if I want to read something from 1833 the chances are that I won’t fall foul of copyright. Think again. Not all public domain is equal and the laws of copyright are being adopted by those with an eye on the commercial game. Maybe that shouldn’t be so surprising.
All I wanted to do was to read (and share with you) some articles on Printing from 1833. They were originally published by Charles Knight in his ‘Penny Magazine’ in 1833. The Penny Magazine ran from 1832 to 1845. It’s safe to assume Charles Knight is long dead. So we should be able to read his work freely? Think again.
Here’s the journey I took in trying to source these articles. It’s the journey you, or anyone else interested in the history of printing might have taken. Ordinary people, not academics. Because I’m sure that many ordinary people are as interested in the history of printing now as were then when the Penny Magazine was freshly off the presses (priced you’ll note ONE PENNY)
The preamble is that I actually found and read these articles some months ago – following a reference on Victorian Literature (as is my wont, heading off down some narrow byways. For me that’s one of the joys of reading, you can take little diversions and find some incredible things you never even dreamed of!) I found a student digitization project from 1995 where the articles were transcribed and made available in a number of formats online. Free. A student project. But any of us could read them. I noted down the link and in time for this month I clicked it. NO SIGN OF THE PROJECT.
Okay. Undeterred I used my internet search skills. Which means Googling of course. It’s public domain material, it shouldn’t be that hard to find, surely?
Google gave me several links – most of them to restricted sites. By that I mean you have to either pay to access content or you have to be part of an academic establishment. I’ll come back to this point.
What do we do when we hit a dead end online? Wikipedia of course. And there is an entry. With links. Here’s the gen:
Which suggests this is going to be a breeze. Except that the first two of the external links have been cut off leaving only the Internet Archive link available.
Where’s the problem?Click the link and access all the articles free online. Happy days. Except….
The problem is that there are huge square boxed chunks cut out of the text randomly. Forgive me, but as a reader, I do actually want to read the whole of something not to have to guess what’s in the cut out boxes!
If you don’t mind the boxes, you can read it online here https://archive.org/details/ThePennyMagazineOfTheSocietyForTheDiffusionOfUsefulKnowledge
Even having navigated through all this, they don’t seem to have (or I couldn’t find) the ‘supplemental’ editions in which the articles I actually wanted to read were. (Though I did find several very interesting pieces which, had I not had to guess what was in the big blank boxes, might have been satisfying)
Remember, we are looking for Charles Knight’s Commercial History of Printing. It’s nothing to set the heather alight. It’s not political or radical or even interesting to most people. Not important enough for anyone to have published in its own right in nearly 200 years (though it is quoted in quite a few books dealing with literature, publishing and history in other contexts.) I hate nothing more than not being able to get back to primary sources. Especially when I know they exist and I’m being blocked because I’m not part of the ‘pay to play’ or academic world.
The suggestion is, if you are an ordinary person, why would you even want to read a Penny Magazine from 200 years ago?
But why wouldn’t you? And if you do want to, why should you have to either pay for the privilege or be part of an academic establishment?
In a digitised world, why is this information not freely available. It has been digitized, but it is restricted by the copyright of those who have digitized it. That has to be wrong.
In the case of the Penny Magazine (and it is one of literally hundreds of such titles) you cannot freely access the information.
And I’m beginning to think that Google has rather more to do with this than I’d like.
Here are the ways you can get your hands on these articles:
There is quite a second hand trade in The Penny Magazine with copies at £5 per issue. (but I’ve not seen any for the 4 articles that make up The Commercial History of Printing)
You can join Ancestry.com and they will let you read them online. Or they suggest you might like to buy them from: Archive CD Books Ltd : Penny Magazine, 1832–1844. Gloucestershire,
Here’s the information on that: ‘Issues of The Penny Magazine printed between 1832 and 1844 are contained in this database. The weekly periodical was an illustrated publication aimed at a British working class audience and priced at one penny. Created for the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge by Charles Knight the magazine was meant to provide means for those unable to receive formal teaching to educate themselves. The Society itself was backed by Lord Brougham who was a member of the Whig party and interested in liberal reform.
For the modern reader this collection of Penny Magazines provides a rich assortment of articles and illustrations about British culture and life at this time period. Each issue is packed with general-interest articles ranging in subject from animals and history to well-known places of England, sermons, and poetry. Though at first successful The Penny Magazine could not sustain its success due to competition and dependence on high circulation. The final issue was printed in 1844.
For the genealogist this collection yields insight into the worldview their ancestors may have had. Wood cut illustrations provide detailed pictures and portraits, personal stories are expressed through poetry and anecdotes, and thorough descriptions of locations where your ancestor may have lived are all accessible.’
(I took this from their site – breaching copyright or helping promote them? For me, you put something on the internet, you are happy for people to quote it! Forgive me if I’m wrong.)
My point from the sales blurb above is that the suggestion is that we might well be interested in reading volumes of The Penny Magazine but if you want to do so Archive CD books will charge you nearly $20 for each yearly volume. It’s a commercial venture of course and they are quite within their rights to do this, and I’m more than happy that people ‘add value’ to work. I also appreciate (I do enough of it) that the work of re-digitizing does take time and effort - but I’m afraid I’m not prepared to pay $20 for a CD copy of something that is in the public domain.
You can read some online for free from Google. They have been digitized by a variety of American institutions.
What you can’t do is download unless you are ‘a partner organisation.’ That’s pay to play folks. If we can read online, why can’t we just download a PDF? I suppose it’s all to do with people protecting what they see as their time/effort put into the digitizing. But I question whether that’s something we should be commercialising.
The waters here seem very muddy. And all tied up with definitions (and potential commercial gain) from public domain and copyright. Google explain their policy as follows:
Public Domain or Public Domain in the United States, Google-digitized: In addition to the terms for works that are in the Public Domain or in the Public Domain in the United States above, the following statement applies: The digital images and OCR of this work were produced by Google, Inc. (indicated by a watermark on each page in the PageTurner). Google requests that the images and OCR not be re-hosted, redistributed or used commercially. The images are provided for educational, scholarly, non-commercial purposes.
Note: There are no restrictions on use of text transcribed from the images, or paraphrased or translated using the images.
I suggest the note is because ultimately there is very little bite in the Google Digitized public domain position. They know that really everyone is free to do what they want. Transcriptions are okay. Really there are ‘no restrictions’ but they do want to protect their investment - the problem here is that this makes it well nigh impossible for the ordinary person to read a lot of public domain works (unless streamed online). I suggest that this is something we should resist.
Over the coming months we will (through diverse means) transcribe and republish The Commercial History of Publishing by Charles Knight. And in order not to upset any of the big boys, we’ll publish it online FREE with open access. That should comply with ‘non-commercial purposes.’ Bear with us. It will take a bit of time to source and transcribe.
One thing that we came across during this search was the following: Jeremy Norman’s History of Information. http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?id=3761
It’s well worth a look both in and outwith the context of Knight’s Penny Magazine. I don’t know who Jeremy Norman is, but marvel at the time and effort that’s been put into his website/s and ask yourself whether he or Google is doing the ordinary reader the better service?!
So – off you go – spend a penny – and happy internet hunting! Remember the public domain belongs to ALL OF US.
To find past articles please use monthly archives.