Book People Archive

RE: NY Public Library charging for use of public domain images -- does anyone else out there care about this issue?

There may be a subtle issue here. I can believe that there is nothing in 
the law that prevents them from asking people to pay use fees for the 
material that they hold. However, if someone does take a copy of a 
public domain item and uses it without paying the fees, then the NY 
Public Library should be unable to get a court to enforce the charge.

From my point of view this is a pretty unpleasant position for them to 
take. Rather than just acknowledging that once they make an actual copy 
available (by posting it on their website, for instance), people can do 
whatever they want with it, they are using the implied threat of legal 
action as a club to try to get people to pay.

Does anyone know if they would have to be able to prove ownership of the 
copyright to be able to even open a case?

Another question: If they hold the only copy of a public domain image, 
to what extent can they use contract law (e.g. I'll only let you see and 
copy this if you agree to pay me) to cover their lack of ownership of 
the intellectual property? It seems obvious that contracts can't totally 
trump the fact that something is in the public domain, but I have no 
idea where the line gets drawn.

-- Dean

Dean B. Krafft
Senior Research Associate
Department of Computer Science
Cornell University