4 Mar 2012 Are you public domain?
Well, after last week I’m sorely behind (as usual). I was all set to continue with plans for shadow puppets, etc, when my computer decided to die. Not so much die as the screen being totally unreadable. Through hazy and difficult googling I discovered that I’d likely need to replace the screen and since my computer was about 4 years old and going bad anyway, decided to get a new one. How lucky I was to have access for backups still.
Between reinstalling programs and uploading files, and generally yelling at Microsoft for making Outlook emails unuseable in any other program, I have begun making my new shadow puppets. So far I’ve made 6 puppet bodies, and they’re looking pretty good. I’m making 2 at a time so as not to get too distracted from what I’m really supposed to be working on: my super secret project.
As it happens I started a thread over on Puppets and Stuff as a way of documenting the process of developing the project; more because I hardly ever document a build step-by-step there than not planning on sharing it here. I plan to do both. However over at P&S it’s more random, as I post chronologically but disparate tasks. Here on my blog I plan to post updates a little more logically.
And so instead of starting with a build or a design, I’m starting with the script. Although the design came first, I absolutely require a decent script in order to even think about proper prototypes (I’ve made a few to test the secret design I’m using, but it really needs a script I can work with as static puppets are hard to judge the effectiveness of). When I found out I had been accepted to the Summit (see above link), I knew I had to get cracking on my reading matter.
Which is: Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo by Galileo Galilei, translated and edited by Stillman Drake. The book has some excerpts from Galileo’s works, along with some biographical and historical discussion. I’ve been wanting to have a copy of a particular passage of Galileo’s writing for some time: a short parable about scientific discovery that includes a bird keeper who finds out nature has a lot of different ways to make sounds. It’s incredibly well-written, and even ignoring the subtle references to science, discovery and scepticism, the passage is poetic and enjoyable for lovers of literature. More to the point, it is ideal for a puppetry show, being both a narrative and visual story. When I decided I was going to try the puppet effect I thought this would be a great piece to use - for reasons which will become clear further down the track as the design idea is revealed.
However, before getting into the actual text, I realised I had to practice what I preach: and double check I wasn’t breaking any copyright laws. Obviously, Galileo’s work would be deemed to be ‘public domain‘. But then I don’t know for sure and being a sceptic, I’m not just going to assume I’m right based on gut feeling. But there’s a secondary issue: translated texts of public domain works may be copyrighted. … Actually, it can be harder to work out because if I film the performance and upload it to Youtube it might also then get into international differences on copyrights for translated public domain works. And so it’s a lot trickier than one would expect. I’ve been working on an article on copyright issues for School of Puppetry, so this also is a good opportunity for more research as well.
The first thing I’ve done is look up my bookmarks. Over the years I’ve amassed a huge database of useful links for Australian theatre, and some of them include organisations that have info like this. So I have contacted the Australian Copyright Council, an organisation that provides minimal free advice to small arts organisations/individuals. The website is chock full of helpful tips and hints and definitions: but nothing specific about translated public domain works. An enquiry takes a while though, so I won’t have any news there for a bit. (About a week or two)
From there, I’ve gone on to look at other resources, found mostly via the Wikipedia link above. The Public Domain Review immediately caught my eye. The site has an amazing page with info about public domain resources - the link will send you right there - including a page on finding interesting public domain works online. The site itself though is eye-catching because it has a lot of weird and wonderful stuff on it. Audio files from Edison; images of old maps and early biology diagrams; films of trapeze acts in black & white cinema; texts of well-known status and the obscure…. my goodess, it’s a research heaven! And this is just a list from the home page! This is such an interesting site, and if you’re looking for ideas for your next show (or any other artistic activity), you should bookmark it for future reference. Seriously, there’s some amazing stuff there, especially in their guide for finding online stuff. The only problem: if you’re looking for the search function hit the ‘end’ button on your keyboard. It’s at the bottom of the page. Sadly, a search for Galileo turned up nothing…
For those more computer-geeky and know how to code, there’s actually a calculator you can use to find out when something will go into public domain. The concept is intriguing: research from various different countries informs on the algorithm, based on diverse laws on how long a material (text, audio, etc) may be copyrighted for. (In most countries, copyright lasts for a certain time after someone’s death, unless there are further copyright issues such as translations, wills, etc) The FAQ on that page is mostly about public domain and copyright laws, and is worth a read even if you’re not interested in the calculator. There they also have a link to further resources on works in public domain. A calculator sounds great, but I have no idea how to use it and it will only tell me what I already know: Galileo’s works will be PD, but what about translations?
Further down the rabbit hole, I am oddly enough surprised to realise that I never noticed the Wayback Machine is also an archive of public domain materials. For those who don’t know, the WM takes snapshots of websites over the course of its existence, allowing you to find sites that may have info removed or changed in the past. You can even see websites that no longer exist. (Plug in my site and you’ll see all the different web designs I’ve used )
Through that, I found an interesting book on Galileo’s life, which I’ve bookmarked and will need to come back to. Some of the chapters there would be great to read for more context on his work; and actually come into play when writing my script. Most of the other references were for operas (written about his life), and even then what I could find that was relevant doesn’t have much by the way of copyright info. It’s a useful site for finding possible ideas or further research, but not great for info on public domain works.
Another site I discovered was Public Domain Day, a website that covers international info on public domain works, including lists of what recently came into PD in the last couple of years. I haven’t browsed the site much, but the links page lead me to some of the above suggestions and I’ll be spending more time here before moving on completely. What makes the site particularly useful is the worldwide map where you can see how long each country gives a copyrighted work before it becomes public domain (ie. the life of the artist + 70 years is common), and compare it to other countries. Interesting that the US has no PD materials until 2019, and that very few countries have no copyright or are unknown. Sites like this actually make it very easy to find out just how likely it would be to find some overseas artist’s work and rip it, thinking it was ok to do so - it’s really not.
I’ll keep researching from here, following the various links at Public Domain Day and other sites…. but of course, all the above websites have one thing in common: none of them should be taken as official legal advice, especially because copyright laws differ from state to state and country to country. Assuming something on a website to be correct is rather silly. And so even though my wander through the texts has been interesting, I will be waiting for the official advice from the ACC before taking the use of Galileo’s work as ok. Particularly as it could be fine to use a different translation, but not this one; or as I’m not using dialogue, it could be the translated text is all right as a basis and not a complete adaptation.
The question remains though: what do I do if the answer is no? And should I continue working on it hoping they say yes? This is where I must admit, I’m not quite sure what the next step should be.