Gutenberg Director Admits Error, Promises Revised Procedures. (But The Cat’s Out of the Bag)

Dr. Gregory Newby, Chief Executive and Director of Project Gutenberg, issued a public apology to Greg Bear, Astrid Anderson Bear, and unnamed “others”, for a “determination of non-renewal” that was in error.  He said he was ordering removal of “The Escape,” the work that provoked the Bears’ complaint, from the Project Gutenberg collections and catalog. You can read that complaint here.

Below are the pertinent passages of Dr. Newby’s letter.  However, it does not address the question of liability for possible damages resulting from release of the work into the public domain and subsequent exploitation by publishers and other third parties.

Richard Curtis


Dr. Gregory B. Newby
Chief Executive and Director

Dear Greg, Astrid, and others:

My apologies for my long delay in responding. As promised in
September, I discussed the situation with one of Project Gutenberg’s
copyright lawyers. This particular lawyer had previously been very
helpful in preparing and then providing legal advice and feedback on
our procedures for determining non-renewal status.

Our lawyer advised that our non-renewal determination for The Escape
was in error. Therefore, on October 1, I removed The Escape from the
Project Gutenberg collections and catalog and announced its removal
to our mailing list.

On behalf of Project Gutenberg, I apologize for the error.

The error occurred because we did not know that Brainwave was a
complete publication of the serial parts of The Escape. We did know
from the publication of The Escape in 1953 that it was the first part
of a serialization, but did not know that Brainwave, from 1954, was
the title of the complete serialization.

We are working on enhancements to our procedures for serial works so
that we are more likely to find variations in titles such as happened
with Brainwave.

As a result of your complaint, we have received clarification from our
lawyer on situations where individual parts of entire works are
published serially, but only some of the parts, or only the entire
work but not the serial parts, are renewed. Until we received this
clarification, our procedure was that each part must have a separate
renewal for its first publication.

My long delay in responding is because our newly revised procedures
are not yet posted on our Web site. We’ve had some exchanges with the lawyer I mentioned, as well as among the Project Gutenberg copyright team and production volunteers. I do hope to have the revised procedures for non-renewals in place soon, and meanwhile Project Gutenberg has put a hold on public domain determinations for non-renewals.


For the complete text of Dr. Newby’s email, click here.

And for a complete archive of E-Reads postings related to piracy, infringement and other unauthorized use of copyrighted works, click here.


3 Responses to Gutenberg Director Admits Error, Promises Revised Procedures. (But The Cat’s Out of the Bag)

  1. Greg Weeks says:

    It looks to me like he removed it on October 1st, not “He said he was ordering removal”

  2. Astrid Anderson Bear says:

    Dr. Newby’s letter, excerpted above, was sent to us on 10/25/10. It is now on the Project Gutenberg Foundation’s “Archive of Cease and Desist Responses” and Mr. Weeks has been posting links to the letter today.

    As stated in our article, Gutenberg had already taken town the Anderson piece, although their reasoning does not address our assertion that copyright was never lost because of non-filing by the original magazine.

  3. Greg Weeks says:

    The assertion was never that the copyright was lost because of non-filing by the original magazine. The magazine copyright notice was sufficient without filing to maintain copyright for the first 28 year term. (ending in 1981) This is not in question. The assertion was that a renewal filing for the magazine publication of the story was not made in the 28th year after first publication. The change in the name from “The Escape” to “Brainwave” with no indication in the filings for “Brainwave” that the piece had been previously published in part under the title “The Escape” is why the renewal on “Brainwave” was missed.

    Non-filing by the original magazine is not something that keeps a renewal from having been filed and isn’t even something that’s looked at under PG’s rule 6. I can show you examples of the original filing and the renewal filing that are simultaneous.

    I don’t make the determination that something can go in the PG archive. I can make the determination that I won’t work on it because it looks like it is obviously still under copyright and doesn’t have permission or even just because it’s not interesting. Everybody working for PG is a volunteer. I probably wouldn’t have bothered with “The Escape” if I had known it was part of “Brainwave.”

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