Great Gatsby, Copyright, and the Public Domain

f_scott_fitzgerald_in_carIs the Great Gatsby in the public domain? The book was written in 1925 and Fitzgerald passed away in 1940. Copyright generally expires 70 years after the author’s death, so you could be forgiven for thinking the answer is “yes.”

If you live in Australia, Canada, or another jurisdiction outside the US, you can already get the book through sites like Project Gutenberg Australia. US residents should not click that link–had SOPA been passed, this site could have been censored for even providing the link. In these United States, however, Gatsby is still not in the public domain.

Here’s Duke’s Kevin Smith (who we’ve talked to before) on the convoluted reasoning behind this:

Let’s look for a minute at F. Scott.  Because he died in December of 1940, his unpublished works do enter the public domain in the United States as of 1/1/11.  His published works, however, are another story.  If a Fitzgerald work was published between 1920 and 1922, as This Side of Paradise was, for example, it is in the public domain.  But any works published in 1923 0r later, such as The Great Gatsby, are still protected.  After 1922 (and prior to 1963), a work that was published with copyright notice  and the copyright in which was renewed is given a term of 95 years from publication (the initial 28 year term plus a renewal term, after the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, of 67 years).  Thus published works from this time period are protected until at least 2019; — 1923 plus 95 years equals 2018, so works published that year will rise into the public domain on 1/1/2019.  The author’s date of death does not make any difference for these works.

This distinction seems designed to confuse librarians and other users of works.  An archive of Fitzgerald manuscripts, for example, could digitize and make available those items that were never published, or that were published earlier in F. Scott’s career (like Tales of the Jazz Age).  But a manuscript of Gatsby or Tender is the Night is still subject to protection.

The EFF had a nice explainer on this topic recently as well. Copyright restrictions aren’t just tougher in the US, they’re also subject to the whims of Congress. Congressional action can remove books from the public domain even after they’re put there by law, thanks to this Supreme Court decision.

How does this regulation affect the availability of books? Rebecca Rosen of The Atlantic called it the “missing 20th century” based on Paul Heald’s study, “Do Bad Things Happen When Works Fall Into the Public Domain?” Here’s a chart of books available from Amazon by decade of publication:

Amazon pub domain-thumb-615x368-83391

Continuing to extend copyright protection every time Mickey Mouse gets close to being put in the public domain helps Disney, but it does not help the spread of knowledge. Don’t get me started on Hollywood, though–I’m off to see the movie.

Wednesday Nerd Fun: The Science of Batman

Batman is a particularly entertaining superhero because he is in some sense the most realistic. There’s no need for an alternate universe or an elaborately fictional back story: he’s a guy with a cause and enough money to acquire the tools he needs. This premise was violated by certain plot elements in The Dark Knight Rises (see here), but the basic believability of Batman remained.

It turns out that Scientific American has not one but two posts on the science of Batman. The first piece, from 2008, answers such questions as, “How long would Bruce Wayne have to train to become Batman?” and “How would Batman get enough rest?”

In the more recent post, Paul Zehr tackles questions like “Why are Joker and Bane so difficult to beat anyway?” and “What revisions to the Batsuit are needed to protect against… concussion and spinal cord injury?” If these thoughts keep you up at night, you might also be interested in Paul’s book, Becoming Batman.

Moneyball Roundup

Something for everyone. Here are some links to supplement my previous posts on the topic.

For movie loversReview of the movie at New Raleigh:

Here’s the dirty little secret behind Moneyball that no one ever mentions. During the same time that Beane was throwing away the rule book and doing things his way and yada yada yada, there were a ton of other ball clubs already using sabermetrics to evaluate players. Here’s the catch: When Lewis called those clubs, no one wanted their methods printed for the world to see. Hence, a team like the Athletics became the focus of a book written by Lewis.

For statisticiansLessons from Paul DePodesta (whose real-life role roughly corresponds to that of Jonah Hill’s character in the movie):

In a presentation Tuesday at the Strata Summit in New York, DePodesta, who is now Vice President for Player Development for the New York Mets,  reflected on the role of performance analysis in baseball and lessons that can be applied to data-driven organizations. When he arrived in Oakland, DePodesta recalled, small-market teams like the A’s with limited budgets found themselves outgunned in bidding wars with wealthier teams in markets like New York and Boston.

“We had to come up with a different way,” said DePodesta. “It was like preparing a gourmet meal, but having to shop at 7-11.”

For students of economics and non-readers out there (not that those two overlap): Check out two of Russ Roberts’ podcasts, one with Michael Lewis on the Hidden Economics of Baseball and Football and another with Skip Sauer, The Economics of Moneyball. There are additional links on both pages if you are interested.

For students of politics: John Sides guest-blogging at 538 on “The Moneyball of Campaign Advertising”:

[T]he effects of television advertising appear to last no more than a week — a “rapid decay,” write the eggheads. A study of the 2000 presidential election finds the same decay. Campaigns may be wasting millions of dollars running ads weeks if not months before election day, only to have any effects of those ads dissipate. Case in point: the approximately $20 million that Bill Clinton spent in advertising between July 1995 and January 1996 — months before the 1996 election. The mastermind of this strategy, Dick Morris, wrote that “the key to Clinton’s victory was his early advertising.” But there is little evidence that the ads mattered at all….

Campaigns are spending a lot of money, but they are not playing Moneyball.

For baseball fans: Beyond the Box Score, recently named one of the 50 best statistics blogs of 2011, has fun charts like this:

I have ordered these in roughly the order that I think they relate to the movie, including consciously placing baseball fans last. I apologize for the fact that this post is essentially one long run-on sentence.

More on Movie Scripts

The post about movie scripts got a little long (sorry), but I wanted to share an anecdote that is hopefully more illustrative than boastful.

Several years ago on my first trip to DC, I had the opportunity to visit the Pentagon and meet a colonel with one of the coolest jobs in the world. His job was to coordinate Department of Defense assistance to movie and television productions. If the movie/show presented the military in a favorable light, it could receive greater access to (if memory serves) DoD installations, training procedures*, personnel, and equipment. This is why the producers of Black Hawk Down were allowed to use actual Black Hawk helicopters rather than having to paint older Vietnam-era Hueys black like some film crews have done.

Part of his job involved reading the scripts to determine whether the production would lend itself to a positive/accurate/patriotic/whatever view of the US armed forces. (Or intelligence agencies: he also showed us a script from the fifth season of the series 24 which was then in production.) While the colonel and his office exercise no direct editorial control over the final product, receiving this type of assistance is a huge incentive for the producers to cooperate with his criteria.

That is not to say that the quality of the final product is compromised–indeed the result is often exactly the opposite. But it does illustrate one point of the previous post: that there are mechanisms that influence the creative/scientific process that are often hidden from consumers of the final product. Again, I am not saying that this is an unmitigated evil, that people are bad, or that you cannot find this information if you look. I am suggesting that many readers have an interest in becoming informed members of one or more creative communities, and that they will be well served by digging a little bit deeper and finding the information that is available.** Gaining a clearer perspective on the iterative nature of the creative/scientific process will change the way you think.


*See the special features on the Black Hawk Down DVD if you don’t believe this one.

** As a counter-example, we also at MRE’s in the colonel’s office for lunch. I have significantly less interest in seeing how those are made….

Reading in Graduate School

Caveat: this is a skill that I am working to develop over the next few years, not one that I have mastered.

Reading in graduate school is different from that required for undergraduate coursework. This is true not only of the sheer quantity (it has been likened to drinking from a firehose) but also the types of readings assigned. As Thomas Kuhn has noted, most of the readings assigned to undergraduates are in textbook form. The advantage to this approach is that the reading is comprehensive, or at least provides most of the requisite information for the course.

But there is also a key disadvantage: the textbook is given as ‘received wisdom’ from sages of ages past without any indication that those findings were not uncontroversial at the time, or indeed even presently. This is like a movie: we see the final product, but we don’t know which scenes ended up on the cutting room floor (or at least are being saved for the DVD), which changes were made to the script, and so on.* These differences are apparent sometimes in movies that are adapted from books, but often they are invisible to the major audience. (Have you heard many favorable comparisons between movie adaptations and the original book? I haven’t.)  The movie analogy shows that while the final product is often perfectly fine in its own right, it is usually lacking the substance or nuance of the original.

This difference between watching the movie and reading the script is similar to the change from undergrad to graduate course readings.** Rather than having a nice, clean package of information in the form of a textbook, you spend much more time reading journal articles and short papers. Often you will read opposing viewpoints on the same issue/question, either in the same week or over the course of this semester. This type of reading has the impact, on me at least, of showing that science*** is a fluid process. It is not a collection of right answers, it is a resource of ideas that seem to fit with certain facts when they are viewed in a certain way.

Jeff Ely put it very well recently:

My tests don’t contain any information in them that isn’t in the raw data.  My tests are just a super sophisticated way to summarize the data.  If I just showed you the tables it would be too much information.  So really, my tests do nothing more than save you the work of doing the tests yourself.

But I pick the tests.  You might have picked different tests.  And even if you like my tests you might disagree with the conclusion I draw from them.  I say “because of these tests you should conclude that H is very likely false.”  But that’s a conclusion that follows not just from the data, but also from my prior which you may not share.

What if instead of giving you the raw data and instead of giving you my test results I did something like the following.  I give you a piece of software which allows you to enter your prior and then it tells you what, based on the data and your prior, your posterior should be?  Note that such a function completely summarizes what is in the data.  And it avoids the most common knee-jerk criticism of Bayesian statistics, namely that it depends on an arbitrary choice of prior.  You tell me what your prior is, I will tell you (what the data says is) your posterior.

Pause and notice that this function is exactly what applied statistics aims to be, and think about why, in practice, it doesn’t seem to be moving in this direction.

First of all, as simple as it sounds, it would be impossible to compute this function in all practical situations.  But still, an approach to statistics based on such an objective, and subject to the technical constraints would look very different than what is done in practice.

A big part of the explanation is that statistics is a rhetorical practice.  The goal is not just to convey information but rather to change minds.  In an imaginary perfect world there is no distinction between these goals.   If I have data that proves H is false I can just distribute that data, everyone will analyze it in their own favorite way, everyone will come to the same conclusion, and that will be enough.

Like reading the script of a movie and seeing how ideas change, graduate school offers the chance to peek behind the curtain of the scientific process. We can discover many things, some of them profound and some of them fundamental. But hopefully through it all we can remember something that we should not have forgotten in the first place: we are only human.


*Another way that this is sometimes apparent is in closed captioning. When a movie’s subtitles don’t match up precisely with what’s being said on screen it is often because the CC is based on a version of the script rather than someone actual viewing the movie and captioning it.

** If you have some interest in reading movie scripts, see here here and here.

*** By “science” here I mean simply the organized, falsifiable pursuit of human knowledge.

Of Gods and Men

Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to his country. That the Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure. And that my death is the same as so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of oblivion. I’ve lived enough to know, I am complicit in the evil that, alas, prevails over the world and the evil that will smite me blindly. I could never desire such a death. I could never feel gladdened that these people I love be accused randomly of my murder. I know the contempt felt for the people here, indiscriminately. And I know how Islam is distorted by a certain Islamism. This country, and Islam, for me are something different. They’re a body and a soul. My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who call me naïve or idealistic, but they must know that I will be freed of a burning curiosity and, God willing, will immerse my gaze in the Father’s and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them. This thank you which encompasses my entire life includes you, of course, friends of yesterday and today, and you too, friend of last minute, who knew not what you were doing. Yes, to you as well I address this thank you and this farewell which you envisaged. May we meet again, happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God the Father of us both. Amen. Insha’Allah. (Des Hommes et de Dieux, 2010)

This is probably the best film I’ve seen since The King’s Speech and perhaps longer. It tells the story of eight (later nine) Trappist monks who choose to stay in Algeria despite the encroachment of the civil war on the community where they live peaceably with Muslim villagers. Having read some of Thomas Merton’s writings this summer (himself a Trappist born in France but raised in the US) made it particularly interesting. Highly recommended. More here.


Thoughts on Watching Public Enemies

I had the chance to watch Public Enemies over the weekend, and highly recommend it. (It’s from 2009, so yes, I’m behind on this.) The basic plot line is the effort by Melvin Purvis, of the Bureau of Investigation, to capture John Dillinger. It was the notoriety gained by the Dillinger case that would help the Bureau of Investigation to gain the “Federal” in its title, becoming the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover. 

There’s an interesting scene very early in the movie in which Hoover is sitting before an appropriations committee trying to get more funding. Hoover emphasizes the infamous nature of the criminals his agency is pursuing, and is met with the question of how many criminals he has personally arrested. The answer, of course, is zero: Hoover was a bureaucrat, who had risen through the ranks of the Justice Department. The year Hoover graduated law school is a key to understanding what follows–he finished in 1917, just as the US was entering the Great War. I can’t help but imagine that the mobilization effort Hoover would have witnessed in DC and around the country at that time was an important factor in a very important metaphor he used later.

You see (and have seen, if you’ve watched the movie), Hoover was the first official to declare a “War on Crime.” I am not aware of an earlier instance where war was employed metaphorically in this extensive, public way. The gruesomeness of the Civil War would have made that unlikely before Hoover. This metaphor has, of course, been used extensively since. War on Poverty, War on Drugs, War on Terror… it seems like the US government is always declaring war on something.

(more below the fold)

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