The Online Books Page


On this page, you can find out more about supporting free speech, fair use, and the public domain-- all of which are good for society, and help make a large library of free online books possible.

Stop Censorship

In the United States, attempts have been repeatedly made in Congress and the court to limit free expression online, to chill legitimate speech through lawsuits, or to require the use of Internet filters that often ban lots of legal expression. The EFF's Blue Ribbon Campaign for Online Free Speech continues to monitor threats to free expression online.

Around the world, Index on Censorship has lots of information about censorship-related events worldwide.

Keep Copyright Terms Reasonable

Copyright in the US is meant to "promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective Writings and discoveries" (US Constitution). The "limited times" qualifier is important: copyrights should be long enough to encourage authors to create new works, and short enough to allow works to enter the public domain in a timely fashion, so they can be reused for education, research, enjoyment, and the creation of new works, and not be lost to posterity.

Beyond a certain point, copyrights no longer act as incentives to create new works (particularly if they substantially outlive the authors). A large number of works were created in the 1920s with a maximum copyright period of 56 years. (already twice as long as the original copyright terms for the US). This was already extended to 75 years in the 1990s, with a life + 50 year term for new works. It the 1990s, it was extended again, to 95 years for old works, and life + 70 for new ones, and some in the entertainment industry are calling for even longer, or even perpetual, terms. The law was challenged in court, but eventually the Supreme Court decided not to overrule Congress on the matter.

Excessive copyright extensions, like the one recently enacted, are bad for the public, and do not help the actual creators of works either. Copyright protection already goes well past their own lifespan, and well past the time any of an author's children reach adulthood. Copyright extension also does nothing to encourage the creation of works that have already been published -- but it will apply to those works as well. While the US is now a few years into a 20-year freeze of the public domain, there is real danger it could be frozen much longer-- or even permanently-- with subsequent copyright extensions.

Concerned US citizens should write their legislators to know that they do object to copyright extensions, and that they are not the "uncontroversial, no-lose" bills their proponents claim to be. With the new extension, no further books will enter the public domain through copyright expiration until at least 2019, and books that could otherwise go online may languish in oblivion until then.

Because of the current lengths of copyrights, many books go out of print and fade into obscurity long before their copyright runs out. Recently, "orphan works" legislation has been proposed to let people use such works and make them available to readers again. I also encourage folks to write Congress to pass useful orphan works legislation, though in many ways it would be better to have reasonable copyright terms to begin with.

Protect Public Domain Status of Factual Information

"Database protection bills" have been introduced repeatedly in Congressional sessions. None have yet passed, but, as with copyright extension, this may only be a matter of time. These bills would for the first time put simple collections of facts under intellectual property controls. Such material, if there was no creative work involved in the compiling the collection, has always been in the public domain in the US. Such bills would take away a right that the public has had up till this time to freely use factual information, and could seriously hurt the dissemination of knowledge. This article at summarizes one recent bill and the issues it raises. The Digital Future Coalition web site has updates on more recent bills of the same type, and explains why they are a bad idea.

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