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The Theropod Archives, a PDF library for theropod researchers

Dear fellow Listers:

I recently emailed Ken Carpenter in regard to his Ankylosaur PDF library, which he brought to the attention of the DML on 17 March 2008. As an unanticipated consequence, I now find myself working on a similar Web-based resource for theropod works. The project is still in the "humble beginnings" stage, but perhaps has been fleshed out enough to "go live" with it. While developing the site, I made a decision to slightly expand upon Ken's model, but now find myself second-guessing what I have done. I'm writing the List to seek informed opinions/advice over the legality of this particular implementation with respect to copyright law, and also to inquire about proper etiquette. I thought I would briefly describe the site, detail a few of my concerns, and put my questions to those among you who are published authors, or who at least have a better understanding of these issues than I.

How the site works:

If you've seen Ken's ankylosaur site, the look and feel is much the same. I followed Ken's lead in loading only works that have been around 50 years or more. However, I also decided to provide external links to PDFs that are freely available online (regardless of the age of the published works contained therein), with the caveat that said PDFs must appear to be distributed legally. My loose rule for determining "legal distribution" is that the PDF must be located either 1) on someone's CV page or list of publications; or 2) at a journal site with open access content. External links are denoted with special color coding to make it apparent that these PDFs are not being provided directly.

My concerns:

1. Is 50 years generally accepted as a reasonable number for determining whether a work is in the public domain? From my Internet research on the law here in the States, I think it's likely that a majority of the works authored before 1964 would have entered the public domain by 1992, but there is also the possibility that the copyrights for some of these works were renewed, and that they are still protected. I'm not sure how to tell if that's the case, and when you're looking at the works of deceased authors - and/or works from now defunct publishing houses - is it even realistic that you could contact someone to inquire? I have also considered the possibility that publications from other countries may have different durations for copyright protection than we do here in the U.S., but have not yet looked into this.

2. My links to external (freely-available) PDFs go directly to the URLs for the PDF files themselves. I set it up this way for the convenience of the user, but wonder if it might be better practice to link not to a PDF directly, but to the page offering it. Also, in the event that a PDF originates from a CV page, is it necessary or considered good form to request permission to link to it? I have only a limited amount of time to work on the site (even less with the addition of a new family member on Monday). Needless to say, I would like to focus my energies on expanding the offerings as rapidly as possible. Should an emailing campaign to obtain permissions be part of the equation, I might look to enlist a helper, or would simply need to expand the site's content at a dramatically slower pace.

I am hoping that such a Web site would be welcomed by the DML community and found to be a useful resource. I haven't the background to contribute knowledgeably on the List's science-heavy threads, but I've learned a tremendous amount by reading them. I'd enjoy the opportunity to give a little something back. It then boils down to whether it's possible to offer such a resource without risking any copyright infringement. As a stopgap measure while I attempt to learn more, I've added language stating that I will promptly remove any PDF or link whose inclusion is deemed objectionable by any party directly associated with the work. (Probably affords little real protection, but at least demonstrates my willingness and desire to adhere to the rules.)

Some final thoughts, pertaining to issues of visibility and accessibility: If, as I hope, all that I've described can be done fully aboveboard, I would make the Web site available to all comers. If the consensus view is that it's a terrible idea and I run the potential of opening myself up to legal issues, I'll pull the plug. If it falls in some gray area in between yet still receives widespread support, I might consider keeping the project alive, but would perhaps look for a way to control access through a password authentication system. Can't say that I'm a particularly savvy Web developer, and such a scheme is presently beyond my means, but perhaps there are others on the list who could assist.

Your thoughts and comments are very much welcome. If it would help to see the site in order to better form an opinion, please email me. I will forward a temporary URL, where it can be seen for a limited time.

Apologies for length, and thanks in advance for your assistance.

Best regards,

Rob Taylor

Lansdale, PA, USA