The Prelinger Library’s
vast offerings are wide
open to the public, the
rows of shelves inviting
Patrons are encour-
aged to use the space
as a workshop, with
access to a flatbed
of contemporary, copyrighted works at the public
The Prelingers facilitate open access to printed
text in other ways as well. They’ve partnered with
the Internet Archive to digitize 4,000 items in their
library. And they actually take the trouble to investigate the public access possibilities of individual
books. Says Rick, “The majority of works published
from 1923 to 1963 are public domain, but the only
way you can know is to check the physical copy
for the proper form of copyright notice and look
for a copyright renewal in the records of the U.S.
Copyright Office. This process is hard to automate,
but for books we use an excellent database built by
Mike Lesk and optimized by the Stanford University
library. For other items we consult our own copies
of Copyright Office records. It is, for sure, a slow
and artisanal process.”
In defense of the public domain, the Prelinger
Library has joined the Internet Archive in challenging 1992 changes to copyright law — changes that
automatically extend copyrights up to 75 years.
This new copyright law creates an “orphan class” of
creative works, because even if authors no longer
care about protecting their commercial rights, the
copyright is automatically in force and permission
for reuse can only be granted by the author, who
may be dead or impossible to locate.
Before leaving, I ask the Prelingers if their
library is replicable. “Yes!” says Megan. “We really
encourage people to create their own idiosyncratic
Imagine if all the most rabid collectors of books
and odd (or not-so-odd) textual ephemera started
merging collections in locales all over the world, and
artfully organized them so that each one represented
a way of seeing the world. Sounds pretty cool, right?
Let a million public-access libraries bloom!
» Prelinger Library online collection:
» Prelinger Archives online collection:
R.U. Sirius is a notorious technoculture iconoclast.
He recently launched the Open Source Party and
QuestionAuthority — two incipient political organizations
56 Make: Volume 16
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