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Free the Books

conjugating international copyright laws
As a Google Library Partner , The University of Texas Libraries will digitize at least one million books from the Libraries’ unique collections, starting with our Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. This rich collection holds over 800,000 titles about and from Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Librarians, faculty and alumni acquired these works by gift, exchange and purchase over eight decades to create a comprehensive collection to support teaching and research at the university.

Current technologies enable us to provide virtual access to these collections for study anywhere, but a tangle of international treaties and copyright laws complicates our use and distribution of foreign works. There is little guidance to help us reliably identify which of our books are already in the public domain so we are piloting a project to develop new tools for ourselves and for anyone who wants to tackle these difficult public domain problems. We will document our process, our progress and our results on these pages along with links to web resources we find useful. We invite suggestions and comments from other Google Library Partners and anyone undertaking similar or related projects. Comment on our posts.

Email us at freethebooks@gmail.com. We are here; we are building an evidence base and we are looking for virtual partners!

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 / conjugating international copyright laws

Our Google Book Searches…

We are just as frustrated as our readers about not being able to access TEXTS that are clearly in the public domain but for various reasons the books in which these texts are found are bound up by copyright. These books end up on your computer screens as SNIPPETS.

The complexity of several cases has become apparent recently as we estimate the research effort that will be required to confirm public domain status of various serial sets we own so that the sets can be displayed in Full View to the public through Google Book Search.

One case we considered for follow up includes a five-volume series with extensive genealogical information about families in the state of Parana, Brazil, “Genealogia Paranaense,” compiled by Francisco Negrao. We have been able to determine from authority files and biographical sources, that Negrao died in 1937, so according to Brazilian copyright laws, his books passed into the public domain 70 years after the year of his death-in January 2008. That much is pretty straight forward.

What complicates things is that the five-volume set we own was reprinted in 1961 along with an index to the volumes prepared by Salvador de Moya. Moya, a colonel in the state military police, founded a national federation of genealogical groups in Brazil in 1949; he died in the mid-1975s, so clearly his work—unless he willed it otherwise—remains protected by copyright.

To the general reader this set may seem an irrelevant piece of antiquarianism but the reality is that to scholars the volumes offer a tantalizing insight into the military mind in countries where there are still cultural vestiges of nobility or aspirations to that world of medals, titles, and coat of arms.

The Benson Latin American Collection acquired one of the first five volumes that was discarded by the Library of Congress; later it purchased the entire reprinted set accompanied by the Index. The one volume was found to be useful and so the decision to buy the set. The series is listed in Foster Stockwell’s A Sourcebook for Genealogical Research (McFarland 2004), giving an indication that genealogists at least still are interested in this reference book. From these past actions follow the decision to make it available to the public in general. But, who to contact to get the necessary agreements? What are the chances that they will reprint the out-of-print texts?

We have not been able to determine the current address of the Instituto Genealogico Brasileiro that in 1961 was located on Rua Dr. Zuquim, 1525 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The books were originally published between 1926 and 1930 by the State Printing Office of Parana in Curitiba and reprinted in 1946 by Impressora Paranaense, which today is a large corporation that prints commercial food packaging labels. At least we know their address. What are the chances that anyone there will know about the books or have access to the original production contracts?

The website for BrazilGenWeb, a good source for genealogical institutes in Brazil, did not have a listing for the Institute. From the University of California’s Worldwide Genealogy & Family History Research bibliographies, we gathered that in 1969  the Instituto ceased publication of the Revista genealogica brasiliera, a related series started by Moya. It’s likely that in 1969 Moya retired or could no longer keep up with the journal or the institute.

So after two hours of research, we have not much more than dead ends. What would be the most effective way of finding Moya’s family in order to clarify the status of Negrao’s original text and to obtain the required approval to display the text online? Even though the texts are in the public domain in Brazil, they are protected by U.S. law for 95 years after the date of original publication, since Negrao’s work did not go into the public domain before 1996.

We will file this one for now, and go on to the next case…

One Response to “Our Google Book Searches…”

  1. georgiak |

    Great story, Maria, tho fairly depressing. At some point perhaps we’ll assess the risk of harm to a copyright owner that we can neither locate nor contact, regarding text that, though reprinted in 1946 in Brazil, and protected in the US until ??, went into the public domain in Brazil in 2008. These are the hard calls we’ll be in a position to make some day when we have enough cases to begin to see the trends, the needs, etc. Good work.