In a dramatic change of practice, Cornell University Library has announced it will no longer require its users to seek permission to publish public domain items duplicated from its collections. Instead, users may now use reproductions of public domain works made for them by the Library or available via Web sites, without seeking any further permission.
"The threat of legal action, however," noted Anne R. Kenney, Carl A. Kroch University Librarian, "does little to stop bad actors while at the same time limits the good uses that can be made of digital surrogates. We decided it was more important to encourage the use of the public domain materials in our holdings than to impose roadblocks."
This is a nice development. Most libraries have required permission before others can publish digitized versions of public domain works and, while this has often been cited as an example of copyfraud, I think it's probably legal. The library is trying to control their own copy, not the work itself. But as Kenney observes, what's the point? If libraries are going to present themselves as champions of disseminating information, they should quit trying to control it. So sure, some naughty yahoo will take Cornell's digitized document and include it in some commercial product of his own, but isn't it better just to blow that off and let everyone enjoy the benefits of widespread creativity and research?
[Thanks to Digitization101 and the Archives Listserv.]