Copyfraud once more

Today I received an email from a Romanian gentleman, asking about the translation of the lost passage by John Chrysostom from Oratio 2 adversus Judaeos, which I commissioned and then gave away recently.  He wanted to make a translation into Romanian.  So he asked what I paid the journal, in which Wendy Pradels published the Greek text with notes and German translation, for permission to have that English translation made.  I replied that I paid them nothing; there was no money in all this, and any claim to own a text by a man dead 16 centuries might be valid in some benighted lands but hardly in the USA. 

But it led me to muse on the likelihood that any academic publisher would try to sue out a claim to copyright in such a case.  It would hardly be sensible, in my opinion; why sue over what has no commercial value?  

While in bath, tho, my sense of humour took hold, and I took to wondering what questions one could ask in court.  Copyright only vests in “original, creative works.”  So…

“M’Lud, can the plaintiff tell us which specifically which words in the first line are NOT by John Chrysostom?”

“Would you give us a list of the differences between the text printed and the text composed in 400 AD by John Chrysostom?  If you cannot list the portions which are an original creative work by yourselves, on what possible grounds can you claim that any of it is by you?”

“Would you tell us what the commercial value of this item was, when you purchased — as you believed — the copyright from the scholarly author?  Did you pay any money at all for it?”

And so on.

I suspect, sadly, that courts are unimpressed by rhetoric  unless it involves clever points of law.   The layman who ventures into these waters does so at his peril, and indeed few of us ever do so unless cornered.  As Auberon Waugh remarked, from bitter experience, “He who goes to court places himself in the hands of a ring of grinning rascals who will all run up costs as fast as they can until somebody has to pay.” 

It’s probably easier and safer just to meet the plaintiff, shake hands with him, and then pitch him head first out of his office window, “accidental-like”.  Would the fines for so doing be at all likely to reach the charges that any law firm would demand?

The serious point behind all this is that the relentless march of commercial interests taking a yard where the law granted an inch has reached the point of absurdity.  Only the common sense exercised by publishers in the anglophone world is restraining them from foolishness of the sort feared by our Romanian friend; and outside that sunlit circle of generosity and mutual respect, there have been many examples of insane greed.  We need to push back. 

Genuine creative work should be protected by copyright, for the benefit of us all.  Attempts to own the work of the ancients, by one subterfuge or another, should not exist in a civilised land.

Origen problem

The translation of Origen’s Homilies on Ezechiel is going very well, and we are deep into fragments from catenas.  These tend to make sense only if you have the biblical (=septuagint) quotation before you.  The NETS text and translation is the modern standard, but of course is heavily copyrighted by Oxford University Press.  I’ve been meaning to approach them for permission to use this, little as I like the idea. 

But I have at this very instant had a horrible, horrible thought. I don’t think I can use NETS.  Indeed I cannot use anything copyright on the English side at all, or only for portions appearing only in book form.

The end objective is to make the translation freely available online.  I will never be able to do that if portions are copyright someone else!

Oh bother. I’ve literally thought of just now, so I haven’t a solution to hand.  What to do?  Any suggestions would be welcome. Maybe the answer is simply to translate the biblical passages ourselves in all cases.

Isn’t copyright a bother!!!

A curious copyright consideration on commissioned work

The lawyers in the UK have done something odd.  They’ve decided that if someone commissions a bit of work from someone else, the copyright of the work remains with the author unless the contract explicitly says otherwise.  The details are here.

It’s hard to imagine any circumstance in which X would pay Y to create an original work and not intend to acquire ownership.  So this is just a typical lawyer’s trick, designed to increase the income of lawyers by obscuring what was plain to everyone and forcing everyone to state in writing what everyone presumed already, on pain of enriching more lawyers.  I can’t stomach such things.

I’ve tended to state this explicitly in all the work I have commissioned, being paranoid, but I’ve written to all my people explicitly again.  What the US position is I do not know.

As a rule I only take ownership so that I am free to give it away, of course.

Irving Woodworth Raymond and Orosius

The first English translation of Orosius was made by I.W.Raymond and published in 1936.  It’s probably still in copyright in the USA, unfortunately, which keeps it off the web.  A later translation exists in the Fathers of the Church series.

Someone wrote to me about Orosius today.  Apparently he is the first writer to mention the term “Asia minor”.  This led me to look again at the copyright.

When did Raymond die? (he was born in 1898, according to COPAC)  A google search led me to an obituary in the St. Petersburg Times, August 11, 1964:

NEW YORK — Dr Irving Woodworth Raymond, 65, professor of history at Brooklyn college here, died Monday at his home in York Harbor, Maine.

Isn’t Google books wonderful?  I remarked yesterday how the British Library, in putting newspapers online, made sure to charge for access; Google gives it to us for free, and we all benefit.

Sadly it looks as if his work won’t come out of copyright in the EU (life+70 years) until 2034, by which time I will be dead myself, I suspect.  In countries with life+50 years, that reduces to 2014.  And I can’t tell you when it comes out of copyright in the US, as I don’t understand the current situation; publication + 95 years, i.e. 2031?

What a mess this copyright law is!  Who benefits from keeping this offline?

UK copyrights everything ever made?

Susan Rhoads of Elfinspell drew my attention to this discussion on Wikimedia, where images of out of copyright material were deleted in response to a claim that in the UK any photograph is copyright, even a scan of out-of-copyright material.  The claim is being made by a certain John van Whye, from http://darwin-online.org.uk/, as a reason why stuff from his website should be removed.

There is no indication, as far as I could see, of law or case law to back up these claims.  As far as I know they have never been tested in court.  But then no-one in the UK can afford to defend themselves in court.

It is understandable that van Whye wants to protect his website so he can exploit it commercially — although not all that understandable, since he didn’t pay for it himself.  But this is an evil day, if the already absurdly over-oppressive UK copyright law has managed to be extended yet further.

It all sounds like special pleading to me.

New UK copyright consultation

This article reports that the UK authorities are looking for input from ordinary people on how copyright affects them (by the 6th February).; how they can’t (legally) copy their own CD’s, how you can’t access out of print books because some fool has a 100 years of copyright on it, how libraries abuse copyright to keep people from taking photographs of state-owned manuscripts and putting them online, etc. Why not tell them?