Museums of the Bethel Historical Society creates “Last Twenty” Collection to make available works published between 1923 and 1941

Did you know that the Founding Fathers intended for books to be protected for only a fourteen-year term (renewable once)? The original 1790 Copyright Act has been repeatedly updated, each time extending the duration of the copyright term. While this benefits authors and artists who are now guaranteed rights to their work throughout their entire life (and beyond), it has had a particularly detrimental effect on genealogy and local history research. Much of the information researchers seek is contained in books which are extremely rare and long out-of-print. Current copyright terms place severe restrictions on what the Museums of the Bethel Historical Society, and much larger projects like the Internet Archive, Google Books, and Hathi Trust are able to digitize and make available. It most cases, without extensive research, published works cannot be determined to be in the public-domain unless they were published prior to 1923.

Recently, however, Elizabeth Townsend Gard, a copyright scholar at Tulane University, has brought attention to a little-known, and little-used provision in the copyright law affecting books in their last twenty years of copyright protection. As the Internet Archive, which is now making use of this provision, explains, Section 108(h) “allows libraries to scan and make available materials published 1923 to 1941 if they are not being actively sold.” The Internet Archive is now going to begin scanning books that fit this description, and hopes to encourage other libraries to take similar steps.

While the Museums of the Bethel Historical Society does not have the capacity that larger institutions have for mass-scanning thousands of books, we are eager to play a small but vital role in rescuing a few important texts from obscurity. We have started our own “Last Twenty” Collection and are hand-selecting books which meet the requirements of the provision.

The first title to be digitized by MBHS as part of this project is Metallak, Last of the Cooashaukes with the Life of David Robbins, the Story of Molly Ockett, the Adventures of Lieut. Segar and the Killing of the Last Moose by Arthur D. Woodrow. This rare book, published in Rumford in 1928, is a great example of what is possible under Section 108(h). The book, which contains information on Metallak and other local Native Americans, is owned by only a handful of libraries. An Internet search turned up only one copy for sale for $200. Now however it can be read and enjoyed by people everywhere for free.