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Archive for January, 2008

Ethics and the Public Domain

Every once and a while, I receive an e-mail or read a comment somewhere from someone who has a problem with using Public Domain works because they feel like they’re taking advantage of the original author or artist. They feel guilty over claiming ownership over something that someone else created. I’ve written about this some before, but I thought now might be a good time to go into more detail about this “ethics” dilemma.

First of all, you need to understand that one of the primary reasons the Public Domain even exists is so that works that were created in the past can serve as catalysts for new works in the future. An example of this is clearly evident with Disney’s use of Grimm’s Fairy Tales as the foundation for some of today’s best-loved Disney classics, such as Snow White and Cinderella (although Disney has seemed to have forgotten their own beginnings and has fought tooth-and-nail to keep Mickey Mouse and others OUT of the Public Domain). This concept provides the foundation for my own passion for the Public Domain…to take the successes from the past, add fresh insights and technology to create hybrid products for a new generation.

Where this all gets murky, however, is when it comes to claiming ownership for something not originally produced by you. Is it okay to put your name down as the author of a work that was written by someone else, but is in the Public Domain? Legally, you can do it. If a work is in the Public Domain, you can do whatever you want with it. However, in order to claim any kind of copyright, you have to apply what the law defines as minimal creativity…you have to change it. Once a work falls into the Public Domain, it can’t be re-copyrighted as-is, although some would lead you to believe otherwise (including the Smithsonian Institute). So “technically” you could claim authorship, but “ethically” I wouldn’t recommend it.

When we think of “Public Domain,” we often automatically assume that we’re talking about OLD content, but that’s not always the case. Most content produced by the United States government is in the Public Domain and they’re produce a LOT of current content. But I’ve also noticed a growing trend among certain, current-day content producers to release their works into the Public Domain. There has been some debate over whether this is a stupid thing for them to do, or if it is actually a brilliant way for them to spread their words or images in an even more viral way. I’ve found a number of sites where this is being done, and, honestly, I was shocked at some of what was being released into the Public Domain because it’s great content! (NO, I’m not going to tell you WHICH sites I found…sorry).

The biggest question that seems to come up in the discussions about these sites is whether someone else will rip-off the content and claim it as their own. I think it’s possible that will happen some…even with the authors asking for attribution for their work. But, in all honesty, I admire them for what they’ve done. Their actions have even led me to consider releasing some of my own writings and images into the Public Domain. We’ll see. Of course, once they’re in the Public Domain, they’re there…you can’t “take’em back!”

Last year, I was working on a catalog project for a publisher and he sent me a stack of books that were written by an author for whom this catalog was being produced. This author is the pastor of a church in New York and also a natural health practitioner. The publisher had commented to me on how prolific this author was when it came to writing, but I was skeptical. No one can write six or eight books in the space of a few months, especially books on nutrition and homeopathic care. I read the introductions to several of the books and the author shared how the books came out of his own experiences and expertise, and that they were “given” to him through the inspiration of God. Being the researcher that I am (I’m pretty good, especially with all things Public Domain), I decided to test a hunch. I began to research the content of the books to see if they were from the Public Domain, and I made some interesting discoveries.

First of all, at least two of the books were directly from the Public Domain, having been written before 1923. They were not written by him, but were wholesale copies of the original works except for the Introduction. But then, what I discovered next really bothered me…a few of the books “inspired by God” were direct rip-offs of current, copyrighted materials. This person flat-out violated the copyrights of others and claimed the works as his own. I was extremely upset by this and called the publisher, who later confronted the pastor about this when he refused to pay for all the work that was done on his newest book and catalog. This is a clear-cut example of what I would consider ethically and morally wrong…especially for the copyrighted work, but even for the Public Domain works as well. I’m sure God isn’t “inspiring” anyone to lie. So what is the answer?

I mentioned earlier that I view products created from Public Domain works as hybrids, and as such, there are some really cool and easy ways to create them in an ethically acceptable way. One great example of a person using Public Domain works in a hybrid way is Joe Vitale. Joe has taken a number of Public Domain works, like “At Your Command” by Neville Goddard, and added some of his own thoughts and then republished the book as written by Joe Vitale and Neville Goddard. This strategy is a smart one, partly because it is easier to start a project working with existing content rather than start from nothing, but also for associated name recognition. Joe’s name is now connected with Neville’s and it adds a measure of credibility to Joe (not that Joe needs more credibility…he is an expert marketer in his own right).

ANYONE can take an existing book, update the language, add your own thoughts, some takeaway points, a study guide…whatever…and then publish the new, hybrid work under your name and the original author’s name. This approach also demonstrates a level of integrity on your part to honor the original inspiration given to the author. Of course, you can also use the same content with other mediums as well, such as study course, audios and video series.

Another approach you can use to give credit to the original source when creating a new product from a Public Domain work is to include a line of attribution. Include a sentence on the copyright page or in the Appendix, such as: “This new work is based on the original work titled, ‘At Your Command’ by Neville Goddard.” That way, you’re still giving credit where credit is due. A third option is to just leave the attribution as it is, to the original author. In other words, update and re-publish the work using the author’s name. I’m sure you’ve seen a number of updated versions of Wallace Wattles’ classic, “The Science of Getting Rich.” That way, the ethics dilemma is a total non-issue. Lastly, you could just publish or use the content without any reference to ownership. I’ve used this approach a few times, such as with the case study examples I produced for “The Report Factory.” One was based on a Public Domain book and the other, content from a government website. So I just released the e-books with the content and NO listed author. This method is a little more “gray area” for some, but I personally don’t have a problem with it. I’m not saying I wrote it, but I’m also not divulging who did. That way, the source for the content is somewhat protected so that every other yahoo in the world doesn’t try to rip it off.

So what about you and this question of ethics? My recommendation is to follow what feels right to you, but try to give honor where it’s due. It can be in a minimal way, or even not at all. But I would strongly recommend against claiming full authorship or artistry for works you didn’t create. I can’t imagine how building a business on lies would ever succeed in the end. Public Domain content IS free to use, but integrity and honor go a LONG way to building a successful business.

What About Newspapers and the Public Domain?

My newest e-book, “Tony’s Public Domain Magazine Secrets”  (http://www.publicdomainmagazinesecrets.com), shares about the HUGE number of magazines who have issues in the Public Domain. Just the content you find in magazines alone could keep you busy for a lifetime. But as I was working on the e-book, I was also wondering about newspapers. While I’m still researching the story with Newspapers and the Public Domain, I thought I’d share what I’ve found so far.

First of all, the copyright laws that apply to magazines also apply to newspapers, which are considered periodicals as well. That means that, in the United States, all the newspapers published before 1923, as well as those published between the years of 1923 and 1964 without renewing their copyright in the 28th year after first publication are now in the Public Domain. In the UK and other countries, the copyright rules are also the same as with other periodicals…including the application of the rule of shorter term (see my Magazine Secrets e-book for more details).

There is currently a massive project underway to put 30 million public domain newspapers pages online. The project, titled “Chronicling America” is sponsored jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress as part of the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP). The site currently allows you to search and read newspaper pages from 1900-1910 and find information about American newspapers published between 1690-present. You can check it out here:

http://www.loc.gov/chroniclingamerica/

Also, I spent some time searching through the Catalog of Copyright Entries for newspaper entries (http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/cce/) and it appears that what was true for magazines (that very few publishers renewed their copyrights) also holds true for newspapers. I found very few renewals, even for major newspapers. That means that there is most likely millions and millions of newspaper pages printed between the years of 1923 and 1964 now in the Public Domain as well. It seems the Mother Lode of Public Domain riches continues to grow!

Now you’re probably thinking…who in the world would ever PAY for content from a bunch of old newspapers? Well…I’d like to direct your attention to a “small” website known as Ancestry.com. Ancestry.com is perhaps the largest purveyor of Public Domain content in the world, providing paid access to billions of pages of content, from census records and immigration papers to passenger logs and, yes…newspapers. But don’t think that Ancestry.com has the corner on ALL the options for newspapers. There are many other uses for that “old” news as well, and I’ve written about some of them before. Remember my report on Nostalgia? People LOVE the “Good Ole Days” and a LOT of opportunity exists there in a countless number of niches. If you haven’t read my “Power of the “N” Word” report yet, or want a refresher, you can read it online again here:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/1011252/Using-the-Power-of-Nostalgia-as-a-Marketing-Strategy
Let’s look at a few newspaper items that could have potential as good content for an information product.

Personal Record Information – Births, marriages, deaths, deed transfers, personal accomplishments, etc.

Headline News – Articles on world-changing events, sports, war, etc.

Recurring Features – Crafts, travel, advice columns, trends, etc.

Comics – Weekly serials, political cartoons, etc.

Advertisements – Illustrations, full-page ads, etc.

Photographs – Famous people, events, architecture, vehicles, etc.

There is one more advantage to considering the use of newspaper content for information products (the same advantage holds true for magazines)…laziness. Most people will be unwilling to put forth any effort to obtain or use the content. It’s sad but true. Unfortunately, it seems that the name of the game today is Minimal Effort for Huge Payouts…and that’s mostly just a fairy tale. But if you’re willing to be imaginative, do some research and apply some effort to newspaper (or magazine) content, you could tap into another of the great Public Domain goldmines that’s out there…waiting.

Tony

Toolbar 2.0 News…

I’ve been working on the Public Domain Expert Toolbar, Version 2.0 upgrade over the past few days and I’m really excited at it’s progress! I thought I’d share a few teaser features and images from the new interface so you can get a feel for what’s in store. I haven’t set a launch date for it yet, but it should be first quarter 2008.

The Interface

I’m completely redesigning the interface so that it has more of a Web 2.0 look to it. I’m planning to shift more and more of my design in this direction this year, so I thought that the Toolbar would be a great place to begin. Below is the new logo design for the toolbar, which is based on my PDX company logo design:

pdx_logo.jpg

I’ve also completely redesigned the button interface as well. You can see a sample of the new look here:

pdx_buttons.jpg

Under the Hood 

There will be a lot more to the 2.0 version of the Toolbar than just a facelift. Here are just a few of the new features I’ve added as well:

=> I’ve added a ton of new websites that I haven’t been talking about to nearly every category.

=> I’ve added the ability to perform copyright searches for books right from the Toolbar.

=> I’ve added an “Options” feature that enables you to switch “On” or “Off” ANY feature in the Toolbar. So if there are certain category that you’ll never use, like Sheet Music, you can just turn it off under Options and it will not appear on the Toolbar.

=> There will be a “Tabbed Search” feature where you’ll be able to choose which search databases you want to search and then search them all simultaneously, with the results returned in tabbed windows in your browser.

=> There will be a complete set of video tutorials that will demonstrate EVERY single button and feature of the Toolbar.

=> And much, much more!

As soon as I get the Toolbar 2.0 to it’s beta stage, I will release videos demonstrating it’s new features! Of course, there will be special launch pricing and a really great upgrade offer for existing owners of the Toolbar. More details to come!

To your continued success!

 Tony

For My UK Friends…

I received a few e-mails from my UK subscribers asking how the Public Domain magazine strategies apply to them. So I spent the day finding out. As a result of my research, I’ve added four pages to my original e-book to include my findings on the implications of living in the UK and using American magazines that are in the Public Domain. Overall…it’s good news, and I help you stay within the bounds of the law! I also share what the UK copyright laws say about the status of UK-based magazines, journals and periodicals.

http://thepublicdomainexpert.com/magazine

Tony

What Does 99.4 Mean to You?

99.4 is a VERY interesting number.

Did you know:

=>We share 99.4% of the most critical DNA sites with chimpanzees?

=>If you are a middle class (or higher) American you live better than 99.4% of all the people who have ever lived, including those that are alive right now?

=>If you live in Palmerston North New Zealand, 99.4 FM might be the radio station you’re listening to?

=>Many doctors define fever as an oral temperature above 99.4 degrees?

=>Someone recently bought a futures contract for 1000 barrels of crude oil for $100.05 apiece. He then sold that contract minutes later for $99.40 dollars a barrel, at a $600 loss…all for bragging rights as being the first person to buy oil for over $100 a barrel?

But 99.4 is significant in another way: It’s the percentage of American magazines published between the years of 1923 and 1964 that are NOW in the Public Domain. Cool huh! That means that around 200,000 different magazines, journals and periodicals with ALL the issues they published during that time frame are available as content for you to use in your information product business, right now!

That’s millions of pages of quality articles, illustrations and much more…ALL waiting for you to use for your blogs, info products, Adsense sites, articles and whatever else you can think up!

Get all the details on how you can plug into this “off the radar” motherload of fresh content:

http://thepublicdomainexpert.com/magazine

Tony

Read Any Good Magazines Lately?

I LOVE reading magazines! You could definitely say that I’m a magazine junkie. I remember back, early in my marriage…my mother-in-law used to always get in my face about the number of magazines my wife and I bought. I “fondly” remember her saying, “You’re never going to get a house by pissing away all your money on those da@? magazines!” Ah yes…those were the days.

Of course my mother-in-law never ended a visit without “borrowing” a couple issues of this or that.

Well…we have our house and we STILL buy magazines…and my mother-in-law? Yeah…we moved 200 milesaway from her (although she don’t complain much now). Ask me some time about the neo-nazi, religious fanatic accusations some day…oh boy!

Over the weekend, I was reading through one of the old magazines I have from 1919, and I thought about the potential that magazines offer for content creation. I honestly hadn’t researched the availability of magazines in the Public Domain, even though I suspected that there were quite a few available in the Public Domain (like the one I was reading).

I started to do some research, figuring it might make for a quick little report to send out to you, or maybe a nice blog entry. Then I made a discovery that changed my way of thinking about magazines forever.

I knew that magazines published before 1923 would be in the Public Domain. That’s no surprise, and there are literally thousands of magazines that fall into that category. But what I was curious about were the magazines published between 1923 and 1964, when the copyright laws changed. What I discovered BLEW my mind…I mean REALLY!! It’s going to blow your mind too!

http://thepublicdomainexpert.com/magazine/

Between the years of 1923 and 1964, it’s estimated that there were over 200,000 different magazines, journals and periodicals in print. That’s a LOT of magazines! But here is the kicker…of those 200,000+ magazines, ONLY 1,300 ever renewed their copyrights! And of those, many of their individual issues were never renewed! What that means is that 99.4% of ALL the magazines published in that time period are NOW in the Public Domain!!

Yeah, I swore too!

So here’s what I did…I spent the past few days detailing and documenting every bit of knowlege you NEED to find, confirm and use magazine content to create some amazing information products. You’re always going to need fresh content for your products, blogs, articles and more, right? I literally break the process down, step-by-step using a case study to walk you through the entire process of checking the copyright status of ANY magazine or magazine article. I also give you ideas on types of products you can create with the content, where to find the magazines, and, as an added bonus, I include the ENTIRE listing of every magazine that renewed its copyright for you to use as a reference.

This is a totally untapped source of fresh content that has been completely off the radar until now.

You can learn more about this exciting discovery here:

http://thepublicdomainexpert.com/magazine/

Tony

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