Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fun With Misleading Copyright Notices

"The Sacred Wood" is a book of critical essays by T.S. Eliot published, originally, in London in 1920.  I have found two editions of the book for sale at Amazon (well, three, if you count an edition by Faber & Faber which is not purchasable through Amazon but may be purchased on the site from third-party vendors). 

The two editions sold directly by Amazon are:

  1. The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (Dodo Press) and
  2. The Sacred Wood and Major Early Essays (Dover Books on Literature and Drama)

The first book, published in 2009, costs $13.99 in paperback and $28.84 (plus, possibly, applicable sales tax and shipping).  I have not seen the book in real life but I trust that it is an attractively produced volume which would feel good to hold and would look nice on your bookshelf.  The second book, published in 1998, costs $9.95 in paperback and, it seems, is not available in hardcover.  It includes three essays, published in 1921, which were not found in the orginal publication.  I have not seen this volume in real life either but I have seen big chunks of it on Google Books and I own many other books published by Dover.  I am confident that it is also attractive, sturdy and well made.  There are many reasons why you might want to own either of these versions but, then again, you might want to download it for free.

The contents of the books are no longer in copyright.  They have been freed, released to the public domain.  You are permitted, legally, to download them, print them out for your own use, print multiple copies and sell them, and to download them to your computer, your smartphone or your ebook reader.  You might have no idea that this is true, however, if you were to judge by, say, the copyright page of the Dover volume, which reads: "Copyright 1998, Dover Publications, Inc. All rights reserved under Pan American and International Copyright Conventions."

The volume, admittedly, is not the same one as was published in 1920.  It includes three other essays from 1921 none of which, however, are themselves still under copyright.  So exactly what does Dover's 1998 copyright apply to?  Surely I would be within my rights, since the contents are ALL in the public domain, to print my own version of the revised book and sell it, probably even under the title "The Sacred Wood and Major Essays".  So just what does the copyright cover?  It is possible, I suppose, that the contents were NOT in the public domain in 1998 (which was, after all, closer to Eliot's date of death) but I don't think that is the answer.  Since Dover publishes almost exclusively books to which they need not own the rights I would be most surprised to learn that they had negotiated for those rights in this case. 

Google Books compoounds the misimpression.  While it provides online access to most of the book it does exclude portions.  When you click a help link to find out why the explanation (which is a generic one, not written especially for this book) mentions copyright restrictions.  Furthermore, each page image in those pages are watermarked "Copyrighted Material".  Finally, while Google Book routinely allows users to download PDF copies of books in the public domain it does not offer that option in this case.  There are, on top of that, no other editions of the full, original version of "The Sacred Wood" available for download.

Something is wrong, here.

To be continued.


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