Archive for August, 2016

Public Domain works by Charles Darwin are being legally sold online. Is this ethical ?

August 21, 2016

darwin manuscript


Early on Sunday morning (21st August 2016), I spotted the following (anonymized) #icanhazpdf request tweet:-

darwin tweet

After spotting this, I did indeed find that the publication of this Charles Darwin paper from 1858 is indeed sitting behind a paywall:-

darwin paywall

(Thankfully, the person who left the original #icanhazpdf request for the paper found a link to the free version).

darwin paywall1

Here’s some of the responses to my tweet:-











Thankfully, a quick online search threw up a number of open access copies of this work such as here on the Darwin Online website.

So, should works dating back to that era be out of copyright and sitting in the public domain ? YMMV it would seem.

Some tweets from Copyright Librarian Nancy Sims:-







So, after being initially surprised that this public domain work is being sold by a publisher (in this case Wiley), they are within their legal rights to do this.

Earlier this year, there was an interesting thread relating to such matters after I posted this tweet:-

This is also linked to this one:-

One person however is of the view that this is NOT legal:-

Others disagree with that view:-

Let’s see if Copyright expert Charles Oppenheim will comment:-




Views of someone associated with a publisher:-

the_invisible_a @McDawg @HistGeekGirl it seems wrong in principle, even if it may technically be legal. Just shows how messed up laws are.

— Andrea Wiggins (@AndreaWiggins) August 21, 2016

(Jan Velterop implies that he is of the view that it’s legal to download this from Sci-Hub as the work itself is Public Domain)