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O'Reilly First to Adopt Founders' Copyright: Publisher Restores Balance to Copyright with New Legal Option from Creative Commons

April 23, 2003

Santa Clara, CA--Technology publisher O'Reilly & Associates has launched the latest of its initiatives to shake up the intellectual property establishment. At the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference today, founder and CEO Tim O'Reilly announced his company's commitment to applying the Founders' Copyright to O'Reilly books.

Developed by Creative Commons, the Founders' Copyright is a legal option that allows copyright holders to voluntarily release their works to the public after the period envisioned in the original 1790 US copyright law--14 years, with the option of one 14-year extension. O'Reilly will be releasing its books under the Creative Commons Attribution license, which permits others to copy and distribute work as long as they give the original author and publisher credit.

"Copyright law is a foundation of my business," said O'Reilly. "But the original copyright balance has been distorted to tip heavily in favor of creators and publishers. The 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act increased the copyright term to the author's life plus seventy years, yet only a few works are still in active use over that length of time. This copyright extension, enacted to protect a small number of very valuable works, has had the unintended consequence of depriving the public of access to a far greater number of other works."

"As a publisher, I want to profit fairly from my work, but also nourish the intellectual commons. It's in my best interest to ensure that the public domain continues to be a deep well from which we all can draw. By adopting the Founders' Copyright, my company can protect our intellectual property for a reasonable term, and then give it back to the public."

Although in most cases it owns the rights to the books it has published, O'Reilly will release books under the Founders' Copyright only with the author's permission. The company is in the process of soliciting that permission, and 80% of the authors who have responded to date have agreed to honor the Founders' Copyright. O'Reilly is also applying the Creative Commons Attribution license to hundreds of out-of-print books, pending author approval.

O'Reilly has been exploring alternative forms of copyright and content licensing since the January, 1995 release of the "Linux Network Administrator's Guide." Author Olaf Kirch posted the first version of the book online in September 1993, and when O'Reilly offered to publish a print version, Kirch wanted to ensure that the content of the book was still freely available, as Linux was. O'Reilly agreed, publishing the book under the Free Software Foundation's GNU Free Documentation License, and contributing its extensive edits back into the online version. In his preface to the print book, Kirsch noted, "In my view, the great service O'Reilly is doing to the Linux community (apart from the book becoming readily available at your local bookstore) is that it may help Linux be recognized as something to be taken seriously."

O'Reilly has since released a number of books under various open source licenses, either because the author requested it or because the book's sales didn't warrant keeping it in print, but the content was very useful to a particular group of people. A complete list of available titles is at www.oreilly.com/openbook. As they implement the Founders' Copyright, O'Reilly will continue to make more titles available online under the Creative Commons Attribution license.

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