Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, December 7, 2013

An Interesting Online Conundrum

Of course you didn't notice that I did not have an image at the start of this blog post. Well, here is the story and a sad tale it is.

I read a blog post by Jean-Yves Baxter dated 6 December 2013. The post was entitled, "Rare Biblical Texts From Bodleian and Vatican Libraries Digitized." I clicked on the link to the "Source and Full Story." That took me to the New York Times, ArtsBeat webpage that had an article entitled, "Rare Biblical Texts From Bodleian and Vatican Libraries Digitized." Hmm. The same title.  But this article had a image taken from one of the scanned documents. I do not reproduce the page or the image because of what is coming next. 

Then I went to the original website from the Polonski Foundation Digitization Project. This is what the website said in part. Notice the part about being freely available.
The Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican Library) have joined efforts in a landmark digitization project with the aim of opening up their repositories of ancient texts. Over the course of the next four years, 1.5 million pages from their remarkable collections will be made freely available online to researchers and to the general public.
I decided I would like to view one of these freely available online works open to the general public and so I clicked on a link to the tractates Shabbat (ff. 1r–94r) and Mo‘ed Katan (ff. 94v–123v) of the Babylonian Talmud. Which once belonged to the ancient collection of the Palatine Library of Heidelberg and as is well known, this latter entered the Vatican Library in 1623. Hmmm again. To whom is this well known?

Clicking on the document itself takes me to yet another website; The Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. There I can click again and see thumbnails of the entire manuscript from the 17th Century. I decided it might help my blog post to include a screenshot of one of the pages from the document. Another big Hmmm. Clicking on one of the pages shows a viewer that has prominent watermark on the images claiming copyright to the image of the page of the ancient manuscript. I have encountered this before in digitization projects when some super zealous attorney has told the library to copyright all their ancient totally out-of-copyright documents by watermarking everything with a notice.

So I don't copy the image. How stupid would that be to copy an image with huge superimposed copyright notice? Hence, no illustrative image at the beginning of this blog post.

But wait, I didn't stop there. I thought I might see what they actually said about their claim to a copyright of a 17th Century document. So I went to their Bodleian Libraries Copyright Page.  I read down the page. The page says this, in part:
The work is copyright until 70 years after the death of the author (last surviving author, if more than one author). Note that translators, editors &c count as additional authors and that their contributions to works are additional works -- the editor's introduction will be in copyright until 70 years after the editor's death. For works with many authors (anthologies, serials) each individual contribution has its own copyright, which expires seventy years after the death of its particular author. Anonymous works (including works issued by corporate bodies without identification of authors, and pseudonymous works whose true authorship is unknown) are in copyright for 70 years from publication. Illustrations in works have their own copyright, see the questions on special materials.
I did not correct the typos. Last time I checked, the 17th Century was more than 70 years ago and I don't believe any of the authors of the Babalonian Talmud are still living or have been for some time.

So should I just have gone ahead a copied the image? I kept reading. Here is what I found:
Q 1-6 May I scan this article to include in a website?

The law specifically declares that electronic copying and storage count as copying and infringe copyright where it exists. Moreover, putting the article on a website would also count as 'publication', compounding the offence. However, the University has signed the CLA digitisation licence allowing it to scan licensed material for a password-protected VLE. Oxford Brookes University has produced the following useful guide to help its staff determine what may and may not be scanned under the terms of the licence: Scanning materials for delivery in WebCT: Guidelines for staff (published by Oxford Brookes University Directorate of Learning Resources). Outside the bounds of the licence you need explicit permission to scan items in copyright.
I kept reading. I found more stuff:
Q 1-9 May I include this link in my web page?

You may include a link to the home page of a web site, but do not make it appear that the contents are your own. This means that you should not link it within a frame so that the title bar and address bar still have your title and URL. You should refresh the entire window or open it in a new window. It is also good practice to indicate that the user is leaving your site.

You should not normally link to a page other than the home page without checking the page itself and the site home page, and following links such as 'Copyright', 'About this site', 'Legal', 'Info' or 'Help'. If there is nothing which asks you not to 'deep link' (link other than to the home page), it is probably all right to do so. If a site owner asks you to notify them when making a link, you should do so. If a site owner asks you to remove a link, you should usually do so.
So now am I in trouble because I linked to the Copyright page? They certainly have an interesting definition of making a 17th Century document publicly available.

Guess what there was yet another copyright notice on the website for the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana: "Copyright © Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana" Did I violate their copyright notice by copying the wording of their copyright notice?

I have been writing about this practice of libraries attempting to impose a copyright on documents that clearly have been in the public domain for centuries or many years at least. By putting the prominent watermark on every image they effectively prevent me from promoting their website with an image that is clearly in the public domain and to which they have no copyright.

The last time I raised this issue concerning a major university's library website, the copyright notices were subsequently removed. Good Luck this time. Oh, by the way, if you click on any of the links, you are leaving my blog.


  1. Thanks for the warnings. I remember writing a bit about this exciting project a while ago, but not so exciting if it's not 'as advertised'. And as far as the ancient documents go, this surely isn't about copyright, as you say. (Maybe licensing.).

  2. Interesting... From the Polonsky Institutes pages, I did go in and have a look at the The Malermi (or Malerbi) Bible, printed in Italy in 1490 which has been digitized. Those page images are labelled "Images under CC BY-NC-SA | Polonsky Foundation Digitization Project " so maybe it all depends on who is presenting the material. And note the first Notice in the license.

    (License -
    Under the following terms:

    Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

    NonCommercial — You may not use the material for commercial purposes.

    ShareAlike — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.

    No additional restrictions — You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits.


    You do not have to comply with the license for elements of the material in the public domain or where your use is permitted by an applicable exception or limitation.
    No warranties are given. The license may not give you all of the permissions necessary for your intended use. For example, other rights such as publicity, privacy, or moral rights may limit how you use the material."

  3. Duly noted. I have also run into this and I don't understand it at all. But, then, I'm not a lawyer. LOL!

  4. I am a lawyer (albeit not a copyright lawyer), and I'm pretty sure that the Polonsky Institute has an over zealous legal team.

  5. I approached the Bodleian Library over this James. They said they couldn't comment on copyright of material digitised by the Vatican Library, although they forwarded my concerns to them.

    On the subject of their own material, they said the following:

    "With regard to the copyright for the items from the Bodleian we have made these available under a CC-BY-NC-SA licence, which means you certainly may include thumbnails or images on your website and we of course welcome such use and links. The next version of our ‘page-turning’ software will also include the facility to download the images for use offline."

    I think that sounds a lot better, even though some of the texts you quoted sound much more restrictive.