Copyright issues blog

By chance I came across an interesting blog, Collectanea, devoted to discussion of the absurdities of the over-extensive copyright law in the digital age.  There any many interesting snippets in this.  Most interesting is the rise in sales of books indexed by Google books, leading to the probable consequence of a settlement of lawsuits against Google by publishers.   Another snippet is finding others, like myself, devoted to the Public Domain.  Apparently a new Creative Commons license has arrived, specifically to make this possible. 


Mss from the Bibliothèque Orientale, Université Saint-Joseph, Beirut

A couple of weeks ago I decided that I needed to get reproductions of a few pages from some manuscripts which Georg Graf in Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur mentions.  These were in Beirut; i.e. at the Université Saint-Joseph, in the Bibliothèque Orientale.  So I emailed them on in English, apologised for my inability to write French and asked.

I got emails back very promptly from Dr May Semaan Seigneurie, the director of the library, first in French (which could easily read) then in perfect English.  The pages were available in PDF form if you want it (I did!).  You had to pay in US dollars, either by bank-to-bank transfer (they supply a SWIFT code and an account number) or by a cheque that can be cashed in Lebanon. 

I chose the former.  I found that HSBC bank (who have branches in Lebanon) were particularly good for this transfer (although they charged me $42 for the privilege!)  The money went through in 6 days, and I got an email telling me the CDROM will be in the post — sent by DHL, in fact.

I may draw up a list of manuscripts that I want and do a further order.  It really is not too difficult to do, and the service is first-rate.  Recommended.


Greek texts online complete

A couple of interesting pages which I stumbled across while looking for material about the engineer Philo of Byzantium (ca. 250 BC).  The first points to a lot of Greek texts online:

The second is a French site with a vast collection of PDF’s of medical writers, such as Galen:


Libya visit problems

The BBC reports on a sudden change in policy:

Libya changes tourist entry rules

Hundreds of European tourists have been refused entry to Libya after an unannounced change to passport rules. From the evening of 11 November, visitors without an Arabic translation of their passports have been denied entry, even if they have valid visas. … No warning of the change was given to foreign embassies. …

Switzerland has lodged a formal complaint to Libya after about 40 air passengers on board a Swiss carrier were denied entry to Tripoli on Sunday.

The travellers were forced to return to Switzerland on the same plane later that evening.

More than 170 passengers on board a charter flight run by France’s Air Mediterranee had to do the same. They were not allowed to get off their plane which had landed at Sebha airport, in southern Libya.

A passenger on board the P&O cruise ship Artemis has contacted the BBC to say the vessel was not allowed to land passengers in Tripoli on Tuesday morning for a planned day trip.


Coptic Gospel of Judas – critical edition released

Well, I’ve just learned that the critical edition of the Coptic ‘Gospel of Judas’ has finally appeared.  It came out very quietly over the summer, and it seems that hardly anyone noticed. If you want a copy, it’s very cheap indeed. It’s on Amazon here.

The volume also contains the other texts from Codex Tchacos. Long-term readers will remember the incredible story (here) of how a fourth century papyrus book was found under dubious circumstances, smuggled out of Egypt, bought and sold secretly, hidden in 1983 in a bank vault, sold to a dodgy dealer named Bruce Ferrini in the late 90’s, repossessed, and eventually published by National Geographic.

The edition contains all three texts found in the manuscript: the gospel of Judas, the letter of Peter to Philip and James, and the book of Allogenes.

Nothing whatever has been heard since of the other three manuscripts sold at the same time.  Bits of the Coptic Exodus keep surfacing.  The scholars entrusted with publishing the Greek mathematical treatise have done nothing further to publish it, as far as I know.  The manuscript containing a Coptic text of Paul’s letters remains resolutely lost — or rather, lost as far as you or I know.

Damn all these secretive, self-serving papyrologists.  How dare they play their little games with the heritage of all mankind?


Getting reproductions of Mss — the fight goes on

I feel like a challenge.  So I’ve just emailed the Biblioteca Apostolica (or Vatican Library to you and me) and asked how I can get a print-off of some pages from one of their Arabic mss — Vat. ar. 158 (1357 AD), ff. 148r-157v. — containing the unpublished Explanation of the Nicene Creed by Abu al’Majd.  That’s 18 bits of paper.  I can’t see how that should cost more than a few dollars, even with postage.  I’d prefer them to produce a PDF and email it, of course.

Their web page seems claustrophobic with talk of ‘rights’ and ‘fees’.  It will be interesting to see how this enquiry is treated; as a chance to promote scholarship, or an opportunity to screw the stranger.  Let’s hope the former!


Origins of the ANCL and US piracy of it

The well-known Ante-Nicene Fathers series began life as a series of translations of the Fathers undertaken by presbyterian Edinburgh publishers T. & T. Clark, and published on subscription as the Ante-Nicene Christian Library.  “The T. & T. Clark Story” by John A. H. Dempster (1992) gives some fascinating details.  A print run of 4 volumes in 1895-6 was  160 volumes.  Unit cost was around 2s. 3d. to produce, and the volumes sold at around 5s each.  Four volumes were issued a year, and the regularity of this was admired by the Bookseller (1 June 1869, p.470).

But on average the publisher only sold 11 copies of each volume in any one year (it may have been more initially, of course), so the series was very much a long term venture with a lot of money paid up front for limited return.  The same was true of their series of the works of St. Augustine (this was originally of 16 volumes but the last one, a Life of St. Augustine, by Robert Rainy, never appeared owing to other pressures on that busy man).  Clarks were therefore publishing at least in part for Christian motives, rather than financial ones.

Even in those days US sales mattered, because it allowed the print run to be extended (with a new title page featuring the US ‘publisher’!) and so reduced the cost.  But the US copyright law didn’t really protect foreigners, and piracy of British works was endemic.  Essayist Augustine Birrell salutes his many non-royalty-paying US readers in one of his collections of essays.  This situation affected the ANCL also.

It seems that US firms would announce their intention to pirate, and then try to force the UK publisher to accept some kind of financial deal, which gave the pirates sole rights for the US.  These would rarely be advantageous, but the victim was pretty much powerless.

In 1884 the Christian Literature Publishing Company (CLPC) began to produce a pirate version of the ANCL: the Ante-Nicene Fathers.  This was edited by the episcopalian bishop of New York, A. C. Coxe.  T. & T. Clark remonstrated, and pointed out the damage that this was already doing to their sales, but to no effect: ‘finding we had no escape from anyone who chooses to pirate, all we could do was to make the best bargain we could.’  A private letter to Philip Schaff makes plain that Clarks found it hard to understand ‘how Christian men — with Bishop Coxe at their head — could do such a thing.  It is sheer robbery.’ 

After various negotiations and changes of terms, CLPC agreed to pay T. & T. Clark $125 per volume as a flat fee.  This seems to have been paid and, curiously, it seems possible that T. & T. Clark actually did financially better from this than from their sales of the ANCL via Scribners, their US agent.

CLPC went on to appropriate material from other T. & T. Clark volumes, and indeed Oxford Movement volumes, to produce the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series (reviewed here in the 1887 NY Times).  This too was piracy, and again Clarks had to agree.  And thus a classic was born!