Back in early June, I ordered, from the French National Library in Paris, by email, a photocopy of the hard-to-find catalogue of the manuscripts of the monastery of Vlatadon in Thessalonika. It was published in 1918. This is the library, remember, that had a manuscript of the works of Galen, containing his Peri Alupias (On grief) in which he describes the burning of the libraries of Rome in 194 AD, and also containing complete texts of two other works important for bibliography. What else might be there?
Today I had a letter — yes, on paper — from that institution. It only took them 6 weeks. I presumed that it was a bill.
Far from it. It was a letter declining to make a copy, because the work is “in copyright” and demanding that I produce evidence of permission to copy from the publisher or author.
I don’t believe that Greece in 1918 had copyright laws. At least, it probably did not. I’m quite sure that the author is dead, and so unable to give me permission. Probably the printer has long since gone out of business. In the USA all books before 1923 are out of copyright anyway. And they don’t say how they “know” that it is in copyright. I don’t know that, and it seems rather unlikely to me that an author publishing in the 19th century died after 1941, which is the limit even under euro-copyright.
All this the BNF must have known. So … this is just a jobsworth being difficult. I imagine that I am the first person in a century to ask to see this obscure item, and instead of supplying it they have waited 6 weeks to make difficulties. Shame on them.
This, dear readers, is what we all had to go through to get the tools of scholarship, before Google Books. Let us all give thanks that, for English books at least, the power of the petty bureaucrat and jobsworth to obstruct research has been drastically reduced!