Moving to Freedom, .Org

Laying Claim to the Public Domain


We recently bought The Real Mother Goose book for our daughter. I was reading some rhymes from it this evening and happened to turn to the copyright page in the front.

One thing interesting about this page is that there isn’t actually a copyright notice. It says, “This book was originally published in 1916,” which would place it in the public domain in the United States, but then there is also this:

No part of this work may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher. For information regarding permission, write to Scholastic Inc., Attention: Permissions Department, 557 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.

So what is going on here? Setting aside the complete denial of fair use rights, is this an enhanced and updated 3D version in today’s modern English so that a new copyright is in force? The text isn’t reproducible? How about the images? (The beautiful illustrations by Blanche Fisher Wright.) There’s just this blanket claim to the entire work. We’re led to believe we have no right to the content in this book. No right to nursery rhymes that have been around for hundreds of years and are a deeply embedded part of our culture.


It lends support to what Creative Commons is trying to do: make it clear what rights are available with a given work. Purveyors of copyright who scream bloody murder at the “theft” of their “intellectual property” apparently have no compunctions about laying claim to things of which they have no right. I’m sure there are some things about the printed book to which they have a legal right under copyright law, but I’m also certain that they don’t own the copyright to the entire work. It’s funny that they wouldn’t want to make it clear what the rights of the public are.

To verify the status of the book, I checked on Project Gutenberg and was delighted to find a public domain rendition of the book, complete with scanned images. (The images in this post came from there.)

Do you think Scholastic will send me a DMCA takedown notice if I start regularly posting these rhymes along with the images from Project Gutenberg? I’d be using parts of their work without first contacting the Ministry of Permissions, after all.