Time Spent in Old Books

I’m spending a good bit of time these days in older books. I’ve been looking for texts for my koine Greek reading group. I’m preparing readers for the group and would at some point love to put them up on the web and publish them in print.

Of course this gets me into copyright law. Interesting law, that is. I think copyright is a very good thing and is something that should be protected, but the length of the protection of works is just too outrageous. For example, it appears that a work is copyrighted in Britain until 70 years after the death of the author. This means that if a work is published early in someones life, and they end up living a long life, that work might be under copyright for well over a hundred years. The purpose of copyright is to protect the creators investment. Gotta have that. But this is just a very long time...

This becomes particularly annoying with ancient texts. Unless I am mistaken, this law would cover the reconstruction of the text of the Oxyrhynchus papri. Of course some of them were published a long time ago and are almost surely out of copyright now. The first ones to publish in the series on the Oxyrhynchus papyri were Hunt and Grenfell, the latter of which died in 1934. I’m pretty sure this means that as of 2004 all volumes edited by Hunt and Grenfell came into the public domain.

Their translations and notes are valuable, but it is their texts that are most interesting. And if I’m reading the law right, their publications up until the first couple of decades of the last century are all fair game now.

Of course maybe the Egyptian Exploration Society is open about the use of its texts. I do not know. It is definitely something I will need to look i nto more.

The Oxyrhynchus project has its own site. I can’t stand their interface for finding images, but if you look hard enough, you can find some cool stuff.

Hints, ideas, and comments on this particular topic are very welcome. Anybody know an expert in domestic and international copyright law?