Thursday, July 19, 2012

Copyright and disproportionate effects on images

A researcher tested the effect of copyright expiration via Wikipedia articles using images from Baseball Digest. 
That first metric -- length -- proved resilient to the copyright divide. Words are easy to rescue from private-ownership, and the Wikipedia authors simply rewrote the information still owned by the Digest. Every article, post-digitization, became on average much longer.
But Nagaraj found was that the availability of public domain material dramatically improved the article's images. Before the digitization, players from between '44 and '64 had an average of .183 pictures on their articles. The '64 to '84 group had about .158 pictures. But after digitization, those numbers dramatically changed: there were 1.15 pictures on each of the older group's articles -- but only .667 in the new group. More recent players, covered by privately-owned parts of Baseball Digest, had half as many images on their pages as did old-timers.And the effects of this -- of just having an image on the page -- cascaded to other metrics. "Out-of-copyright" players's pages saw a significant boost in traffic.


  1. "Because of a small clause in copyright law, all the issues of Baseball Digest from before 1964 had fallen in the public domain..." I'm trying to reverse engineer this. 1964 is 28 years before automatic renewal, I take it that's the "small clause" referred to -- the magazine never renewed its copyrights; including, I guess, in the photographs although I'm not sure how you could be certain about that. But I suppose the question is not really what the law is, but what the Wikipedia editors believed it to be, and therefore did.

  2. Bruce: that was my assumption; remember also that the collective works rules made it essentially impossible for a contributor like a photographer to keep a separate copyright at that time, so one could proceed with pretty high confidence if the whole magazine was in the public domain.