The lacunae of copyright and digitisation

Ever since I first visited Turkey twenty years ago I’ve been aware that the Ottoman empire’s role in the first world war is something, with the exception of Gallipoli, we tend to ignore in the English speaking world, tending, understandably, to concentrate on the meat grinder of the western front. Even in Australia, where despite Australian forces having a significant role in the conquest of the middle East, we tend to focus on Gallipoli and the western front.

Yet, the history of the end of the Ottoman empire and the attempted partition of Turkey under the treaty of Sevres after world war one are important for understanding why we’ve ended up where we are in that troubled region.

Histories written in English about the conflict tend to concentrate on the victors rather than the vanquished, but I recently came across the amazing Rafael de Nogales Mendez, a Venezuelan soldier of fortune who fought in the Spanish American war, was a double agent in the Russo Japanese war, and eventually ended up as an officer in the Ottoman army, where he witnessed but did not participate in the Armenian genocide and who fought in the middle east including the siege of Kut.

He also apparently encountered T.E Lawrence on one occasion.

De Nogales wrote a book about his experiences with the Ottoman army which I thought might be interesting to track down and read, thinking naively that there was bound to be scanned version online somewhere, and that at worst, one of the Indian print on demand houses would be able to make me copy, much as I did with Ernesta Drinker Bullitt’s diary.

Not a bit of it. The Spanish language edition of de Nogales book was published in 1925 and the English language edition by Charles Scribner and sons in 1926, three years after the public domain cut off date of 1923, so despite Nogales dying in the late 1930’s, the work is still in copyright until 2021, on the assumption that the publisher renewed copyright as required.

Now that in itself isn’t a problem. If I was prepared to pay for a print on demand copy, I was prepared to pay for a second hand copy, except that there aren’t any available via Abe (I tend to use Abe due to their global coverage, I guess that there might be a copy lurking on one of the militaria sites that I missed.)

There are reprints available via the Armenian Genocide documentation centre, but they are not particularly cheap.

Living in a rural area means that I no longer have easy access to a large public library, and anyway, a worldcat search suggests no large library in Australia holds a copy.

So, what we have is this – digitisation makes access to original source material incredibly easy, but the 1923 public domain horizon essentially means that anything published after that date won’t be available 2019 at the earliest.

Equally,  old books are difficult to track down and purchase, in part because of the economics of the industry where the global book barns that mainly sell recent second hand paperbacks have come to dominate the industry, and have taken that lucrative section of the market away from second hand bookshops, making the specialist second hand bookshops less profitable, and hence either more expensive or non existent …

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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