The eBookery: On Not Getting Sued for My Man Jeeves

Project Gutenberg has their header and footer text for a reason. And they tell you to keep it for a reason.

Excerpt from the header:

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure
to check the copyright laws for your country before
downloading or redistributing this or any other Project
Gutenberg eBook.

This header should be the first thing seen when viewing
this Project Gutenberg file. Please do not remove it.
Do not change or edit the header without written permission.

Excerpt from the footer, the legal small print:

***START**THE SMALL PRINT!**FOR PUBLIC DOMAIN EBOOKS**START***
Why is this "Small Print!" statement here? You know: lawyers.
They tell us you might sue us if there is something wrong with
your copy of this eBook, even if you got it for free from
someone other than us, and even if what's wrong is not our
fault. So, among other things, this "Small Print!" statement
disclaims most of our liability to you. It also tells you how
you may distribute copies of this eBook if you want to.

Everyone hates getting sued. I really hate it, personally.

So I’ve re-uploaded My Man Jeeves with the Gutenberg header (before the table of contents) and footer (after everything else). They use the guides “Acknowledgements” and “Colophon” respectively.

The previous download link will still point you to the new download. Again, My Man Jeeves has no copyright in the US, but may have copyright in your country; please check before you download.

Here’s the download link again, for convenience:

[download id=”15″]

The Wodehouse and the Tolkien estates are well-known for coming down hard if they think they can and it’s to their benefit. I doubt the Wodehouse trustees would pay this little excursion any heed, especially given that copyright expired in the US a few years ago, but better safe than sorry, what?

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4 thoughts on “The eBookery: On Not Getting Sued for My Man Jeeves

  1. Well, that’s not why the PG boilerplate is there. You’re welcome to omit it from work you convert from PG source, as the source text *is* in the public domain. The full discussion of the Gutenmark boilerplate and why it exists is here:
    http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Gutenberg:The_Project_Gutenberg_License

    The applicable bit is this:
    “Using the Project Gutenberg Trademark

    If you want to use the name Project Gutenberg anywhere in the ebooks you distribute or on the distribution medium or in advertising you have to obey these rules:

    * you may only distribute verbatim copies of the ebooks. No changes are allowed to the ebook contents. (Though reformatting the ebook to a different file format is considered okay).

    * If you charge money for the copies you distribute, you have to pay royalties to Project Gutenberg.

    * You must refund your clients for defective copies or if they don’t agree with the Project Gutenberg license.

    If you don’t agree with any of the above mentioned restrictions, you may not use the Project Gutenberg trademark. You may still distribute the ebooks if you strip the Project Gutenberg license and all references to Project Gutenberg.”

    Some folks do conversions and leave the Gutenberg stuff in. Others strip it. But this is the first time I recall seeing someone use it as a possible defense against suit. The Tolkien and Wodehouse estates may well be ferocious, but the Wodehouse stuff on PG *is* in the public domain in the US (and everywhere else I’m aware of as well.) If the estate had issues they could legitimately sue about, I rather think they would already have gone after PG.
    ______
    Dennis

  2. Dennis, thanks for the clarification.

    You’re right in that the estates would go after Project Gutenberg first, like when Margaret Mitchell’s estate did in 2004.

    But Wodehouse is not public domain in many countries, which I think includes his home of Great Britain. Thus my general concern, especially since I stumbled across the lawsuit between the Wodehouse Estate and Ask.com.

    After that I felt, well, better overly safe than very, very sorry. Perhaps the header/footer would not withstand an actual real legal suit, but it does warn about the inconsistent copyright coverage.

  3. Yes, I understand the concern. I’m aware of the Mitchell mess. The estate is playing a common game: “We don’t have a legal leg to stand on, but we’ll threaten suit anyway, assuming those we threaten lack the time and money to defend against it and will back off doing what we don’t like.”

    I can see the Wodehouse estate going after Ask.com. Ask used Ask Jeeves as a trademark, and had a substantially valuable business. The estate would decide they ought to have a piece of it. There was enough potential money involved to make it worth their while to try.

    Blackmask.com got hit by a suit filed by Conde Nast over The Shadow and Doc Savage pulp publications they had available. I got a cease and desist order, and the lawyer made clear they could walk away clear — simply take down the offending material, and they’d leave the site alone. The site owner chose not to roll over and play dead and went to court, with the site going off the air shortly after. (It’s back, as Munseys.com, sans the offending material.)

    Money was involved there, too: CN’s parent’s numbers were down, and they were attempting to mine their content assets for revenue. They saw an opportunity for eight figure license fees for the characters for movies, and wanted their ownership clearly established.

    But an individual such as yourself making format conversion of Wodehouse material in the public domain in the US, and offering them free of charge as a labor of love? I can’t see going after you as worth their bother, and if they did, it would take the form of a legal cease and desist order before it got to the point of an actual suit. They’d fire a shot across your bow, so to speak.

    Still, I understand the desire for caution.

  4. I tend to be an overly cautious individual. The cease-and-desist I know would be the likely result if they had any interest, not a lawsuit. The C&D is also extremely, extremely, extremely unlikely.

    All the same, I wanted to make it less likely a cease-and-desist would ever even come, or accusations (legal or not) about not respecting the author and/or the author’s estate, or people saying “you didn’t warn me!” if they ever do, somehow, manage to get in trouble.

    But, you know, it’ll probably never happen.

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