The Public Domain … and Working for a Living

One of the things the Internet has made possible is the wide-spread sharing of work in the Public Domain.  This is work that is not copyright to any estate, individual, etc., but is free to use – as a person sees fit – for fun, profit, or what-have you.  All well and good.  We have even scanned and presented a few older titles through Crossroad Press, sort of testing the waters…but here’s the thing.

Sharing Public Domain material is one thing, and trying to capitalize off of the work of others with no effort on your own part is ass-hattery.

Case in point.  There is a wonderful site – Librivox – where narrators and readers are taking their time, effort, and love of books and the written word and making something wonderful.  They are offering public domain narrations of public domain books and stories, as well as public domain podcasts, etc. available to listeners and readers everywhere.  It’s a lot of work.

We have done over 200 audiobooks at Crossroad Press, so I feel somewhat qualified to comment on the number of hours our narrators spend reading, editing, mixing, and tweaking files to prepare them for listeners.  It’s probably a ration of close to two to three hours for every one hour produced, and your average book runs around eight hours.

What I’ve seen lately is this…people going to these public domain sites, downloading the audio, maybe sprucing it up with some music (also public domain) and putting it up for sale through sites like Audible.com … profiting off of work that was done in good faith for the benefit of all…and for free.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind.  Public Domain work IS free for use in any way you see fit, but you cannot copyright it.  If you add music, or content to it, you can copyright that music or content IF that music or content is – in fact – something you own the rights to.  You can’t copyright the “production” of work you did not create and have no rights to.

And let’s be serious…only a jerk profits off of other people’s volunteer work. I just wanted to point out this practice, and to frown upon it publicly.  If the narrators themselves want to make their Public Domain work available for sale, I see that as a way some folks can pay them back for their generosity.  If a third party who did nothing more than download the files and then upload them back into a sales outlet profits, I consider that – if not illegal, at the least worthy of a golden-asshat award. (there should BE golden asshat awards…seriously…).

Go give LIbrivox a listen … you won’t be disappointed.

 

-DNW

2 comments

  1. LibriVox readers know that anyone can do anything with their work. And I mean ANYTHING. We accept it. I, as a ‘prolific’ LibriVox reader, have no objection to eBay sales of CDs at what are generally very low prices – indeed some of our readers and many of our listeners first found out about LibriVox this way. LibriVox cannot offer recordings on CDs, and some people have neither the bandwidth nor the technical nous to download MP3s themselves.

    I do object, however, when people attempt to copyright my recordings or claim them as their own work – or, for that matter, attempt to charge for MP3 downloads. In those cases, I will institute my own personal Golden Asshat Award – with a free dose of hearty contempt.

    Other equally contemptible people try to profit by registering similar domain names. (Please correct typo at the end of your article. It only encourages them. ;))

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