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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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April 18, 2005

One Hopes the Results Will be Public Domain

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Oxford University researchers claim to be able to use an infra-red technology to finally read the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. If you, like me, had no idea what the heck these were, they're a potential treasure trove of Greek plays, writings by Sophocles, Euripides, and Hesiod, as well as possible Christian gospels written around the time of the earliest parts of the New Testament. Obviously this storehouse would be of tremendous value to scholars and theologians.

The original papyri were found, literally in a garbage dump, over 100 years ago. They've been stored in boxes in Oxford's Sackler Library. Apparently they're completely illegible to the naked eye, but someone had the foresight to save them in hopes they could later be read.

Reading the text is only the first step. Since most of the "documents" are actually fragments there's another task of putting together pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to rebuild actual wholes, estimated to run to about five million words in five or six languages.

The project has been sponsored by by the London-based Egypt Exploration Society whose Web site doesn't appear to contain any information on plans for the recovered material. I also checked around Oxford's site but didn't see anything relevant. The papyri themselves have their own Web site.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Tech


1. Rafael Venegas on April 19, 2005 10:13 AM writes...

In the U.S.A. it is impossible that these works of thousands of years can be in the public domain. After all, the U.S.A. is a leader of making copyrights eternal and easily grabable by the copyright cartels. My recent discovery that BMI (a major American licensor of copyrights on behalf of the copyright owners) licenses 24 latin american national anthems says it all. This can be verified at 18 of these nationa hymns appear as composed by a single composer, a musical genius known as Ricardo Romero. A title search for "himno nacional" at http://www.bmi.comat will show the latin american licensed anthems.

The American national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner is also licensed by BMI. For other countires I did not check but I imagines that their national anthems are also owned by someone and are also licensed through BMI or someone else.

Now, if natonal anthems of countries can be owned and exploited by someone in the U.S.A., why not the ancient scriptures or the Bible? After all we do not know for sure what Greek and Roman commom laws said about copyrights and anyway, they did not apply to the U.S.A.

By the way, BMI licenses the national hymns of the latin american countries in the countries of the anthems through partnership organization in those countries. For example, the BMI repertoire of songs, wich included thr Mexican anthem, is licensed in Mexico through a BMI partner (SACM) organization in Mexico. Some Mexican think their anthem was stolen by the Americans.

This is the good neighbor policy gone berserk, through the copyright system. Copyrights were suposed to be to promote the creation of artistic works but is mostly promoting theft.

Permalink to Comment

2. SJS on April 22, 2005 4:29 AM writes...

"Now, if natonal anthems of countries can be owned and exploited by someone in the U.S.A., why not the ancient scriptures or the Bible? After all we do not know for sure what Greek and Roman commom laws said about copyrights and anyway, they did not apply to the U.S.A.


"This is the good neighbor policy gone berserk, through the copyright system. Copyrights were suposed to be to promote the creation of artistic works but is mostly promoting theft."

That's just not acceptable. Public domain and open source, or get your own damn planet.

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3. Rob Myers on April 22, 2005 8:12 AM writes...

The re-assembled fragments might be a collective work and therefore copyrightable. It's an interesting question as I'm not aware of anything like this happening before (re-assembly of thousands of fragments).

But in any case, any translation that most people can actually read will be copyrightable.

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4. Crosbie Fitch on April 22, 2005 8:32 AM writes...

We could create an analogous situation.

Imagine I have the last remaining copy of an early short story published in pamphlet form by Charles Dickens (previously thought lost).

Many experts have inspected it and swear it is a bona fide original.

The literary content of this pamphlet is of course, by now public domain. However, this physical pamphlet is under my lock and key.

The question is: Just because the content is public domain, does this mean the public have a right to access the content?

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5. Branko Collin on April 23, 2005 8:51 AM writes...

Rob, does mere sweat of the brow create a copyright in a collective work?

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