Laurel L. Russwurm's Free Culture Blog

a writer, the copyfight and internet freedom

Happy Easter from Albrecht Dürer and Me

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Albrecht Durer's Rabbit

I grew up in a creative family, and although I never formally studied art, it was a staple of my public school education* and so I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know who Leonardo da Vinci was. But Albrecht Dürer? Well, I had seen some of his work, but I had no idea who he was until I stumbled on his work on the Internet.

Albrecht Dürer was a “Renaissance Man” from Nuremberg, Germany. A few decades younger than Leonardo da Vinci, Dürer’s interests and work was nearly as eclectic. Albrecht Dürer created some wonderful paintings, scientific studies of the natural world (like the “Young Hare” I’m sharing here), designed architecture and fortifications, dabbled in type face creation, and worked out a lot of the mathematics of art, writing books about measurement, human proportions and geometry. But I think he’s most known for his incredible black and white drawings, elaborate etchings printed from copper engravings or woodcuts, which spread his name and fame throughout the known world.

Although all of Albrecht Dürer’s work is well into the public domain, you’ll find it all over the Internet. While some of it has been marked with proprietary watermarks by people and organizations seeking to claim copyright on it (a shady practise known as “copyfraud”) you can just bypass these things, since there are plenty of excellent quality reproductions of Dürer’s  work in reputable places like Wikimedia Commons, the National Gallery of Art and the Metropolitan Metropolitan Museum of Art and WikiArt.

I’ve taken the liberty of digitally restoring Young Hare to what I think it would have looked like when it was new.


*public school education in Canada that means the universally available state funded public education stretching from Kindergarden through the 12th grade.

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

April 5, 2015 at 1:38 pm

Rijksstudio Awards 2015

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Portrait of Queen Wilhelmina circa 1898 by WG

My digitally framed Queen Wilhelmina (CC0 ~ Public Domain)

This is a portrait of Wilhelmina, the great grandmother of today’s King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands. I found her among the Rijksmuseum‘s online collection of its holdings.

One of the best things is that the Rijksmuseum understands that the Public Domain is the Public Domain. No claiming copyright on scanned images of Public Domain art here, this museum makes its collection available to users in high definition.

Better yet, the Rijksmuseum actively encourages users to make use of its works. To facilitate this it provides a web platform called Rijks Studios where people can collect their favourite Rijksmuseum artwork, and/or remix existing Rijksmuseum works into something completely new which can be posted to the site.

Best of all, the Rijksmuseum is providing an incentive to encourage users to create their own transformative works by way of The Rijksstudio Award 2015 contest that anyone in the world can enter!

Every kind of art imaginable is allowed – design, fine art, applied art, photography, video – and everyone can enter the competition. Check out the eclectic mix of last years finalists ranging from Old Master Headware to eye shadow found here.

I’m very busy with my PubSlush video so I hope I will be able to find the time to complete my own entry before the 15 March 2015 deadline — a notorious day in the arts known as “The Ides of March”.

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

March 6, 2015 at 6:28 pm

Posted in copyright

Thanks for the memories, Leonard Nimoy

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Leonard Nimoy RIP

I was so sorry to hear of the passing of Leonard Nimoy, a man who made such a great impression on so many of us with his incredible portrayal of the most decidedly human-alien, Mr. Spock.


Image Credit
This is a thumbnail drawing of Mr. Spock I did (yes, I used the pseudonym “Vega” for my artwork back in the day) for the science fiction fanzine CANEKTION, my very first self publishing effort (circa 1970s). Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

February 27, 2015 at 2:34 pm

Finding a Digital Public Domain Book

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elmira carnegie 2
DRM-Free LabelAn avid Public Library user asked me if there was some way to access the book “Daddy Long Legs” by Jean Webster without having to submit to the Library’s Overdrive system.  My friend believes this book was published around 1912, which places it squarely in the Public Domain.

(This is not to single out any particular library… my understanding is that “Public Libraries” all seem to have fallen into the thrall of Overdrive… I’ll blog about why people might want to avoid the odious Overdrive and DRM later.)

Any number of “free websites” like Public Bookshelf allow you to read online so they can serve you ads:
http://www.publicbookshelf.com/romance/daddy-long-legs/

Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster cover (1912)For myself, I prefer to go the free-as-in-freedom route.  The first place to look for any Public Domain digital book is online at the awesome Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/157

PG has been digitizing books since the 1970’s, so they have a very good selection.  Sure enough, PG does have “Daddy Long-Legs” which you can:

(1) read online, or

(2) download

  • in the Kindle proprietary format or
  • in the free eBook standard ePub, which can be read with any ePub reader on any digital device, or
  • in Plain Text.

Plain Text can be read in your computer’s text reader (Notepad or Geddit etc.)

If you don’t know if you have an ePub Reader, the one everyone can use is FBReader, the Free and Gratis ePub reader I know will work on windows, mac, GNU/linux, tablets/phones etc  Download it free/gratis at http://fbreader.org/.  (I am pretty sure this is the reader that comes native with the Calibre eBook conversion software.]

Mary Pickford“Daddy Long Legs” is a famous classic, so you can also download it:

  1. as a digital audio book free/gratis from Librevox [https://librivox.org/daddy-long-legs-by-jean-webster/]
  2. where it is actually stored on Internet Archive  [https://archive.org/details/daddy-long-legs_librivox)]
  3. or you can listen to the whole Librivox ebook on YouTube
  4. If you prefer movies, you can watch Mary Pickford in the 1919 Public Domain movie on YouTube
  5. which you can also download from Internet Archive

[There are also what I presume to be copyright encumbered film versions, like the Fred Astaire musical version:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04M9M9yaNG8
and the 1970s animated version:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQIGNow-03E
Either of these would be illegal to copy if they are still in copyright… they may or may not be; but it would take research to find out for sure, so until you know either way,it is always safest to assume the worst.]

If you are looking for digital Public Domain books, the best place to get them is not from the Public Library.  The problem is that even Public Domain books that library patrons acquire through Overdrive come  encumbered with DRM and/or  TOS requirements.

against DRM (cc by Nina Paley)In these days of copyright insanity, we at least ought to be able to access unencumbered Public Domain work.  Why should some faceless corporate entity have the right to tell us what we can or can’t do with works in the Public Domain… because the Public Domain belongs to the public– and that’s you and me.

For future reference, when you’re looking for Public Domain material, always check the free-as-in-freedom & gratis Project Gutenberg, Project Gutenberg Canadaarchive.org and Librivox, because they very often have them.  (And, if you’ve a little extra time on your hands, these wonderful public service organizations are always in the market for volunteers.)

waterloo library

Happy Public Domain Day!

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Happy New Year from the Public Domain

In the beginning, everything was in the Public Domain. But that all changed when the English Queen Anne put an end to public ownership of our shared culture by passing the first Copyright Law in 1710. The idea was that this would encourage creators to create. Initially this Intellectual Property monopoly applied exclusively to the printed word. The term was limited to a few years to ensure creative works would return to the Public Domain.

As time went by, however, the scope of copyright has expanded to include most of the creative realms, and what were once limited terms (ostensibly intended to encourage creators to create) now extends decades past the death of the author. (So far no one has explained how this can possibly encourage dead creators to create new art.)

Because copyright terms have been extended so long, and sometimes even retroactively, works going into the Public Domain have flowed to a trickle, and in some cases to a halt. Those works that are emancipated from copyright bondage are scheduled to enter the Public Domain on January 1st every year, so on this day we celebrate the expiry of the monopoly over the works that return to the Public Domain.

Happy Public Domain Day!

Happy Public Domain Day!

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

January 1, 2015 at 2:03 am

Wishing You a Very Merry Saturnalia

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My lovely Rudolph card would not have been possible without Per Harald Olsen’s gorgeous Svalbardrein pho which he has released on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

“Happy Holidays” by Laurel L. Russwurm is likewise released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

December 25, 2014 at 9:00 am

The British Library’s ‘Curious Images’

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The British Library is organising a free event on Thursday 18 December to celebrate the first anniversary of the release of their million images onto Flickr Commons.

The ‘Curious Images‘ conference focuses on what researchers and artists have been doing with these and other images and what library plans for the next phase of the project. A set of international researchers and artists will speak about and share interesting ideas, techniques, methods and insights they have been applying to various image collections, including those of the British Library.

For more information:
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/curious-images-tickets-14438270255.

[Thanks Lieke!]

Original British Library Scan (left) found at Wikimedia Commons and my own digital restoration (right) of “Canadian Patriotic Indian Chiefs” [full size hosted on Flickr

original scan
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               This is the only British Library image I’ve done anything with so far. Initially I simply did the digital restoration above, but when I wanted a free culture image to use for the Canadian “Blue Dot” campaign, I chose this.

blue dot "Canadian Patriotic Indian Chiefs"

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

December 2, 2014 at 10:00 am

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