A Celebration of Women Writers

Celebration of Women Writers:
Frequently Asked Questions:

The discussions of copyright and fair use given here reflect my understanding of the ethical and legal issues involved. However, you should be aware that I am not a lawyer, and I do not claim to be an expert in these areas. Thank you!

Questions and Answers:

Q. Who is the Celebration of Woman Writers really?

A. This is a purely volunteer project, personally organized and maintained by myself (Mary Mark Ockerbloom) with useful input from my husband (John Mark Ockerbloom) and help from a large number of BUILD-A-BOOK volunteers.

The project is not funded by either university or corporate sponsors. Materials are made freely available to on-line readers, without charges or fees. Our pages can be freely linked to from other sites.

In previous years, the pages appeared on the servers of Carnegie Mellon University. As of the year 2000, the project is being officially hosted and given web space by the University of Pennsylvania's Digital Library Initiative. We greatly appreciate their kindness!

Q. I was looking through your Celebration of Woman Writers and wondered at the omission of author Author's Name. Can you tell me the criteria for this list of woman writers?

A. To be listed, the writer must be a woman, and a published author. A working definition of "published author" would be that I can find the person's books listed in a library catalog such as the library of congress or worldcat. Genre is not a consideration: fiction, poetry, letters, biography, hard science, how-to books, all are equally acceptable forms of writing as far as these listings are concerned.

Since there are a good many people fitting those criteria, it sometimes helps if someone brings the writer's name to my attention :-) Feel free to send suggestions to me, of both names and pages to list. In sending URLs, please be as specific as possible. If a writer's page is located on a larger site, please send me a URL for the specific writer's page rather than for the overall site. Putting information in the following database format will also save me time and work:

NAME Last, First
DATES birthyear-deathyear
REF http://...

Here's an example, with my comments following the # signs. Note that there can be more than one variant of the NAME, REF, or COUNTRY listed. There should only be one set of dates.

NAME Mark, Mary # maiden name
NAME Ockerbloom, Mary Mark # married name
DATES 1961- # birth year only, I'm not dead yet :-)
REF http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~mmbt/ # my home page
COUNTRY Canada # because I'm a Canadian
COUNTRY USA # because I currently live here

Q. How can I provide further information about one of the writers listed? Would you like a bibliography?

A. Unfortunately, I don't have the resources (in terms of either time or space) to create and maintain "about the author" pages here in response to additional information that people send me. However, I'm delighted to link to on-line information elsewhere. If someone puts up a web page about an author and her work, I'd be very happy to add a link to it in the listings. All I need is the URL to add my list of REFs.

Q. I would like to know if you have some information about author Writer's Name that could be of help to me.

A. I'm always happy to receive this kind of question, because it prompts me to look for new resources to add to the listings. Here are some basic things that I do to search the web for information. If you find something you think I should be listing, please email me with the suggestion!

For on-line resources, the best thing to do is check a search engine like http://www.google.com/ or http://www.altavista.com/

If you're trying to find out what titles someone wrote, a good resource is the library of congress database, since one copy of every book published in the US is supposed to be given to them, as part of its copyright registration. LOC is on-line at: http://catalog.loc.gov/

If you're trying to find out what libraries have her books so you can get interlibrary loans, the best source is OCLC's WORLD CAT, which is subscribed to by many libraries. Check to see if your library has a link to it. (If your institution subscribes to it, you may be able to access it at http://firstsearch.oclc.org/

Another potentially useful resource is the geographical index listed below, which you can check to find listings of libraries near you. http://library.usask.ca/hywebcat/geographic.html

Two useful on-line bookstores, which may be of help are the Bibliofind association (lists rare books from many dealers) http://www.bibliofind.com/ Bookfinder, http://www.bookfinder.com/ and Powell's books in Portland (HUGE) http://www.powells.com/

Remember that as large (and convenient) as the web may seem, it covers only a tiny fraction of the information available through more conventional resources such as libraries and journals!

Q. Have you read Book Title by Author's Name ? It was our summer reading book for our school and I am having great deal of difficulty analyzing it. I really appreciate any help or leads that you can give me.

A. DO YOUR OWN HOMEWORK! Your teacher isn't interested in finding out if I can answer her questions; she's interested in finding out if you can answer her questions -- she wants you to use your brain!

Q. The Celebration is a really great project. What can I do to help ?

A. If you take a look at the "Get Involved" section on the main page, you'll see information and further links describing what people can do to help build the celebration. Options include sending me information to add to the exhibit (names, dates, and countries of writers); donating money or books; and volunteering to help put books on-line, either as an individual project, or as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK group.

Q. I'd like to help put books on-line, but I use Webtv. Can I still help?

A. I don't use Webtv myself, so I can't give good advice about it. However, one of the BUILD-A-BOOK volunteers does. Kelly L. Hurt writes: "When I first volunteered, I wasn't sure if a WebTVer would be of any use, but it turns out we can be. In fact, since we can 'program' our Spell Checker so easily, we have an advantage over most of the other volunteers! I've put up a webpage detailing the methods we can use at http://adbooks.tripod.com/build.html."

Q. I would be interested in suggestions of an individual book I could work on. If you could suggest something that is copyright cleared I would appreciate it.

A. If you're in the US, or are submitting the book to a US-based site like mine, the simplest rule is to look for books that were published before 1923. (Copyright law is really more complicated than that: you can see a more detailed discussion of what can and can't be put on-line, at http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/okbooks.html) I'll reel off a few general suggestions to give you some idea about where to look, and you can see if any of them strike your fancy. The most important thing is to find something that you'd like to spend some time working on. Options range widely; people have done everything from Beatrix Potter's early children's stories to 1700's poetry to 1800's political writings and etiquette books. Ask yourself: what writers do you enjoy? What do you think would be of value if it were put on-line? See what possibilities you think of.

You can also get some idea by looking at the author listings for people whose dates end before the 1930's or 1940's (often they published in the early part of the century up to 1922, which is the last year completely in the public domain.)

If there are particular areas or genres or writers you're interested in, let me know, and I can brainstorm more in those areas. Obviously, any writer that BUILD-A-BOOK has done wrote at least one public domain book, although finding copies can be a challenge! Harriet Beecher Stowe is prolific and fairly easy to find, for example; others can be much harder!

Probably the two most popular authors that people mention to me are Louisa May Alcott and L. M. Montgomery. Many of their books are completed or in progress. Keep in mind that the invincible Louisa published several thrillers as well as a large number of children's stories. It's often easy to find reprints; just be sure to check the copyright dates. Montgomery is also a prolific author, but most of her works that are in the public domain are now on-line.

Virago Press publishes a reprint line that has a lot of early modern women writers, including Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Mary Webb, Enid Bagnold, Rebecca West, and Emily Eden (but remember to stick to books copyrighted before 1923 to be safe). Pandora Press does Australians like Rosa Praed. Virago/Beacon Travellers publishes travel books by women like Amelia Edwards and Susanna Moodie. These are generally very nice editions, and well worth looking at if these topics interest you.

Children's books are a good source too. There are a lot of early books by people like Charlotte Yonge (historical books for children, like "The Little Duke"; some near-fantasy), Laura E. Richards (some very highly acclaimed biographies for children, including one on Florence Nightingale); Edith Nesbit (but check dates); Mrs. Molesworth; Diana Maria Mulock Craik; Eleanor Porter; Gene Stratton Porter (but many of hers are up already); B. M. Bower (early westerns, much less shoot-em-up than most!); Juliana Horatia Ewing (pleasant but not always strong on plot) and Margaret Gatty. Women have also collected and published folklore: e.g. Augusta Gregory (Ireland).

There's almost no early science fiction by women, but there are a number of classic early mystery writers, including Carolyn Wells, Anna Katharine Green, and Mary Roberts Rinehart. Many of their early works are in the public domain. Check the publication dates.

Autobiographies, translations, and letters are also possibilities. A number of early feminists and votes-for-women campaigners wrote biographies or autobiographies which are in the public domain. There are also biographies of writers, scientists, and travellers out there.

There are some really early books that are available in translation, like a 1911 edition of the "Lays of Marie de France" (medieval romance tales) but many of the translations of older and foreign works are recent. Be careful with translations; the date of the translation, not the original work, is the thing to check there.

If you get to the point where you are considering working on a particular book or author, I recommend that you check two other locations on-line: the listings for the specific author that you are interested in, to see what books are already on-line, AND the in-progress listings, so you can see if someone is working on it. For author listings, you can either check my pages by author name, OR use John's On-line Books page search engine at: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/search.html. The in-progress list is located at: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/in-progress.html. If someone is listed as planning to work on a book it may be worth emailing them, to see if they ever got anywhere with it, and if they still plan to complete it.

That's a quick random off-the-top-of-my-head list of ideas. As I say, if there are specific topics that interest you, I can brainstorm more on those.

Q. Can I put up a book by Modern Author? Why aren't there any books on-line by Modern Author?

A. One of the problems in trying to represent modern women writers in the exhibit is that most of their publications are still under copyright. Most works published after 1922 (c.f. Virginia Woolf, Carson McCullers, Toni Morrison) can't be put online without permission from the copyright holders.

If you are interested in putting up books yourself, it's extremely important to be sure that they are in the public domain, and no longer under copyright. I don't want people to spend time and effort entering/scanning works that can't legally be displayed.

There is a more detailed discussion of copyright law, and what can and can't be put on-line, at http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/okbooks.html

Q. What does it mean to say that something is "out of copyright"? Is it the same as "out of print"?

A. The distinction between "out of print" and "out of copyright" is important if you're considering putting works on-line.

"Not in print" just means that the book is not currently for sale from the publishers or in new book stores. Most new bookstores have a listing called "Books in Print" which tells them what can be ordered. This doesn't have any implications for the book's copyright status. There are lots of copyrighted works which aren't in print (some disappear from the stores in as little as a year or two ) and there are lots of printed works that aren't copyrighted (Jane Austen, Lousia May Alcott, and the Brontes are good examples.)

Copyright is fairly complicated, and varies from country to country, but basically what it all comes down to is: a work can't be republished without the copyright holder's permission for a specified amount of time. The author (or anyone who buys or inherits the copyright from them) retains publication rights for a set number of years: 75 years from the first publication of the work (applies in the USA to works published before 1923); 95 years from the first publication of the work (USA, works published starting in 1923); 70 years after the death of the author (England and Europe); or 50 years after the death of the author (Canada).

So, as of 2006, a work that was first printed before 1923 (in the US) or whose author died before 1936 (in England or Europe) or whose author died before 1956 (in Canada) is no longer under copyright in those countries.

Once something is "out of copyright" or "in the public domain" (which means the same thing) anyone who wants to can publish it, or put a copy on-line, in that country.

These simple rules are the basics of copyright law: it gets more complicated than that, so more books are actually in the public domain than just those described by the simple rules I've given above. But determining which books are and aren't copyrighted, past this point, becomes more complicated. The On-Line Books Page has a more detailed guide to copyright at http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/okbooks.html.

Q. I have a question relating to copyright. In one copy of Book Title by Author's Name the copyright page says:

1976 Printing
copyright 1876 by Author
copyright 1904, by Relative of Author
copyright 1927, by Publishing Company
All Rights Reserved

I'm not sure what all this means. Can I use this edition of the book to create an on-line edition, or not?

A. Now you're getting into some of the issues that influence my choice of printings when working on something.

The 1976 printing date just means that the publishers printed this edition in that year. You can ignore printing dates.

The first copyright date (1876) is the original copyright date of the edition. This is usually when the book was originally published.

The second date (1904) is probably a copyright renewal date, a vestige of older copyright legislation, under which the copyright holder had to explicitly apply for renewal of their original copyright after 28 years. An unambiguous way of stating this would be "Copyright renewed, 1904." If the copyright holder didn't renew, the work entered the public domain as of 28 years after publication. If they did renew, they got to retain the copyright for a longer period. The old renewal requirement explains why some works published after 1922 are currently in the public domain in the U.S.: they weren't renewed. Renewal is no longer required; all works currently published get the full term of protection automatically.

If you see two dates, 28 years apart, and the first date is 1922 or earlier, it's highly likely that the second date is a copyright renewal. If you want to be absolutely certain, it's possible to check copyright registration and renewal records. The On-Line Books Page has a guide to checking renewals at http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/renewals.html If the original copyright date is before 1923, neither it or its renewal will cause a problem; the original work entered the public domain 75 years after its original publication date (1876).

There is a slight possibility, however, that the second date (1904) was an attempt to recopyright part or all of an edition of the work. The third date (1927) is clearly such an attempt. It cannot be a copyright renewal date, because the time period is wrong for that. It may indicate either of two things.

First, the publisher may have modified the text in some way, and is trying to claim a new copyright on this edition of the book, on the basis of those modifications. This is legitimate in cases where substantial intellectual work goes into the changes. A good example is a modern edition of Emily Dickinson's work that goes back to her original manuscripts and tries to recreate her original intent, without the modifications of her first editor/publishers. However, some publishers may also use this to try to extend the copyright period of a lucrative work while making minimal changes. There are both ethical and legal questions about when this is legitimate.

Second, the publisher may have added new material to this edition, such as an introduction, biographical information about the author, or a set of illustrations. It is legitimate to claim a new copyright which applies to these changes. However, the copyright claim, in such a case, applies only to the new material. It does not enable the publisher to reclaim copyright on the original material. Unfortunately, if the copyright claim is stated in an ambiguous way, it becomes impossible to tell whether the claim applies only to new material or to an entire work.

In either case, this probably isn't a good copy to work from. There'd be serious question whether they could make a claim to the 1927 copyright stick in court - but you don't want to ever go to court to find out! And if they DID change the book, you probably don't want to include those changes in your edition; you want the author's original text and intentions!

Let's suppose that a different edition of Book Title by Author's Name has a copyright page with the following information:

Originally published in the USA in 1876 by Publisher
Introduction by Interesting Person
Introduction copyright 1997, by Interesting Person

This is a much better edition to deal with! The current publishers are telling you that they're basing their work on the original publication of 1876. Since that's over 75 years ago, the edition they worked from is in the public domain (which makes it eligible for them to reproduce, and also for you!) The only copyrighted material in the book is the 1997 introduction, and they're clear that only that part of their book is under copyright. You can't reproduce the introduction, but you can reproduce the rest of the text. These are good people, from an on-line book-developer's point of view; and this is an edition that you can work from.

Other things to look for, as even more desirable, are statements that a work is an "unabridged reprint" - which means they haven't changed anything - or a "facsimile edition" - which means it's the equivalent of an EXACT photographic copy, including layout, pages, type-styles, etc. Either of these notations is a highly desirable indicator that the current publishers haven't messed with the original text!

It can be quite tricky to decipher copyright information if you aren't familiar with it. If you aren't sure, please contact me, and I'll give you my opinion (for what it's worth) of the edition you are considering using. I'd much rather do that than have to tell you that I can't list it, after you've transcribed the whole thing!

Q. If I can't put up an entire book by Modern Author, can I put up an excerpt? A section from their book, or some of their poems? I've seen pages where people have done this, are they legal?

A. Often, short samples or excerpted materials can be legally put on-line, under the doctrine of "fair use". Fair use has been accepted in other media for a long time; it's generally fine for you to quote from a work in writing about it, or to make a copy of a poem for yourself or a friend. What constitutes fair use on the net, however, is not entirely clear, so you should be very careful about doing this. The Copyright Office has a document explaining the nature of fair use at http://lcweb.loc.gov/copyright/fls/fl102.pdf.

Part of the argument in fair use, is that you have to be able to argue that use of the material doesn't hurt the author, either directly or indirectly. It's generally considered fair to include a small subset of a work, such as a quote, especially if you're commenting on it. It can be argued that at worst it doesn't harm the author; and it is often to the author's benefit since it promotes the work as a whole. People who see it are more likely, presumably, to become interested in her work, to buy her work and recommend it to others.

In contrast, reproducing the ENTIRE work could harm the author, since people could get the reproduction instead of buying the original. This is true both if the person making the reproduction is selling it *and* if they are giving it away, since either action could deprive the author of revenues they would otherwise receive. Reproducing a complete work is, in effect, viewed as theft, whether it involves actual or just possible revenues.

Similarly, if you reproduce *part* of a copyrighted work *for profit* you are clearly obliged to recompense the author, since they are considered to be the ones who should benefit from their work. So, you can't put an excerpt or a poem into a journal or collection and sell the collection without getting permission from the author and giving them compensation.

A rough summary would be that IF there is any financial benefit to be gained from a reproduction, the author has a right to control and benefit from it. IF there is any possibility of financial harm or loss due to a reproduction, the author should be protected from it.

Context can also have a lot to do with whether something is fair use or not. Putting a selection or poem up is more likely to be considered fair use if the poem and the context it occurs in are linked to each other, and contribute to understanding each other. For example, putting up a poem in the context of a biography or essay on the writer's work, where it illustrates a point or expands on something said in the surrounding context, is more acceptable than putting up a poem in isolation without any context.

Poetry can be especially tricky, however, since there's a question in fair use of whether the 'complete' work is the individual poem, or the published collection of poems. Poetry is one area where courts have generally enforced strict fair-use limits.

It has also generally considered acceptable to reproduce a poem, or other work, for "personal use." One can photocopy a poem to post on one's wall. One can also photocopy a poem and send it to a few of one's friends. Again, one cannot do so for profit, or distribute copies widely. However, making a personal copy, or sending one free to a friend, is usually not seen as likely to hurt the author, and is therefore accepted.

People may think that putting a poem on the Net is similar to sending a copy to a friend. But there are important differences here that make the analogy between the two situations break down. On the web, you aren't just sending a copy to a couple of your friends. You are making it readable by any number of unknown people. There are definitely people who will argue that the author (or copyright holder) has the right to control such potentially high-volume distribution. In some cases where sites have been careless about checking the copyrights of poems they reproduced, they have been shut down.

There are serious issues here, about whether reproducing materials on the net has the potential to hurt an author. What happens if people read an author's poem on the web, rather than buying a magazine in which it appeared (and from which it was reproduced)? What happens if ten different people at different sites independently put up excerpts from an author's poems, which taken as a group cover the complete contents of one of her books?

As always, the law is determined in a context of practice, and because the net is so new, it's not entirely clear what the practice will be, or how the law will adapt to it. My own recommendation is to proceed with caution. At the Celebration, I link to pages which, in my judgment, are acting within the guidelines of copyright law and fair use. I don't reproduce materials which are still under copyright, regardless of whether they are complete books, or complete poems, except with permission of the copyright holder. When linking to other sites, I link to complete books which are out of copyright or reproduced with permission. I also link to informational pages about authors which are produced by the author, or which place the author's works in context by giving additional information about the author and her works. I don't link to pages which simply reproduce excerpts from an author's work without placing them in any context.

Q. There are some works by my favorite Modern Author that I would like to reproduce. She died several years ago. How can I find out who the current copyright holder is, to ask permission to reproduce her works?

A. "Locating US Copyright Holders" from the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas in Austin has some good advice on how to do this. Their URL is: http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/watch/locating.html

Q. How is an author compensated for electronic publication?

A. You'll note that in answering previous questions, I've said that the works that volunteers are putting on-line can't be under copyright. When out-of-copyright works go on-line, compensation to an author or her heirs is no longer involved, due to the amount of time since the work was written.

Alternately, an author or publisher can agree to allow a specific person or group, such as the Celebration, to reproduce a copyrighted work on-line. This has happened in some cases where a work is no longer being reprinted, and the author wants the work to be available to readers. The author benefits by having her work made more accessible, but no money changes hands, either from readers to us as on-line "publishers", or from us to the author. The author still retains all of her rights over other types of reproduction, and can request that we withdraw our on-line version if she so wishes.

Q. I have started writing my first book and am looking for a place to publish it. Please furnish me with any writer's guidelines you may require to have a part of my book published on your website.

A. I'm afraid I don't publish new works, or have relevant contacts in publishing. You could check out Writers Write -- The Writer Resource at http://writerswrite.com and the Word Weaving Ezine at http://www.wordweaving.com In addition, Victoria Strauss' site Writer Beware! at http://www.sfwa.org/beware/ is a must-read source of information about publishing scams of which every aspiring writer should be aware. Also, Writers Free Reference at http://www.writers-free-reference.com has useful listings of agents to contact, and to avoid!

Q. I love writing. In every minute of my spare time (not much!) I always write. But I don't know if they're any good or not. How do I know? [From a thirteen-year-old writer]

A. If you really want to become something, like a writer, the best way to do that, is to do what you want to become, right now, and keep doing it. What you tell me is that you *are* a writer right now, because you just have to do it! And that's great. Keep doing it! Keep writing, and writing and writing, and...

As to how good your writing is now... whatever level you're at, it's likely to keep getting better as you keep writing. Very few people, at 13, are great writers. There are some people who've published books that young, like Daisy Ashford's "The Young Visiters" but that's really very rare.

If you can find other groups of people who are writing, and share what you're writing with them, and read each other's work, that's a great way to find out what works and what doesn't, and to improve what you're doing. If you can, find a group of young writers, either in your town or on the internet. I wish I knew where to suggest you look, but I'm not sure. Maybe you can start a group with some of your friends, if anyone you know is into writing and reading books. A group in Minneapolis, called the "Scribblies" (I think) worked that way, and almost everyone in the group has become a published science fiction/fantasy writer.

And if someone doesn't like what you write, you don't have to believe that they're right about it! Your style will be your own, not someone else's; not everyone will like the same thing.

Q. I plan to publish material which I'm considering putting on-line. Is it better to wait, not put it on the web until it has actually come out in book form? I feel it is important to disseminate the material, yet I don't want to have it "stolen" before I publish it.

A. You may want to check with your publisher and find out if they have strong opinions on this. You should also see what their contracts say about electronic publishing. A cautious answer is to wait until it has been published in book form, and then put up whatever you like (subject to contract limitations), to promote the book and inform others. A number of people are doing this sort of thing, and the evidence so far seems to be that this helps to promote a small but steady ongoing sale of the books involved -- most people want to read a book in a more easy-to-access form than by holding a computer in their lap. The on-line version gets them interested, and then they buy.

Alternatively, (and I think it's fairly safe, but that's no guarantee) you could put up some material now, and place explicit copyright statements on the pages that you put up. At least in theory, the copyright of the pages would belong to you anyway, but an explicit statement to that effect makes that clear to those who know nothing about copyright law, and may help to deter the foolish or ill-intentioned! That's the route I've taken with the materials I've put up personally. For the most part it seems to have worked: Clearly state that YOU claim copyright, and that the materials are not to be reproduced in whole or in part, for free or paid distribution, without your express permission.

The catch, of course, is what to do if someone violates that. I sometimes get requests from people who want to reproduce something I put on-line as part of their book/CD-ROM for distribution to others -- in general, if they're doing something not-for-profit, say a CD for free distribution to schools, then I'll consider giving them permission. *BUT* I have no guarantee that there aren't other people out there who are producing *for-profit* resources that draw on my work, without my permission. How could I find out? What could I do? Go to court? That could be time-consuming and costly. And it would be important, in that case, to be able to establish when you put your materials up, and exactly what you put up. The best way to do this is to register your work with the Copyright Office. You might also want to keep dated backups and email or notes as records.

I think two questions to ask yourself are: 1) how likely is it that someone would reproduce my work illegally? 2) how much would it hurt me if they did so?

If you think it's unlikely that someone would copy your work, or you think that it would likely be in ways that would do little if any harm to you -- at the level of kids copying to cheat on their homework, for example, rather than someone else publishing your book -- or if you are putting up only part of the work, and feel that won't risk the integrity of the whole -- you may want to go on-line before publication, in the same way that you might publish a paper that talks about some aspects of your work, without worrying that it would adversely affect you. But if you're concerned, or your publishers are concerned, that going on-line might mean being "scooped", there's nothing wrong with being cautious and waiting until after publication to go on-line.

Q. What is the law concerning recent books, published in another country in a foreign language, and never published in the United States? Can these works be translated and posted on-line, without the permission of the foreign publisher, or are they protected?

A. The right to publish a translation (or any other derivative work) is protected by copyright. So you couldn't post a translation on-line without permission while copyright for the original work persists.

A book is covered by US copyright even if it has not been published in the United States, so long as it's published in a country with which we have a copyright treaty (which is virtually everywhere).

Q. I'm doing a bibliography course this term and we've been talking about using the internet as a resource, and I'm curious to know whether the texts that you put on-line are standardized and "authoritative". Could your texts be recommended and used as accurate academic sources? How could an on-line user determine this?

A. I think that a lot of the same issues apply here that apply to selection of textbooks for use in a class, from print publishers. There's more of a screening process for print publishers, but what it finally comes down to is trust and credibility. People learn through experience that certain publishers do a good job of recreating texts for scholars, and tend to go with those that do, whether it be Oxford University Press, Penguin classics, or whatever. Over time, I think the same thing will happen with the internet. People will learn which projects are creating "authoritative" texts, and which aren't, at least in the large projects. (Smaller sites can be numerous and harder to check.)

One important issue is who a site perceives as their target community. While a number of projects are interested specifically in providing texts for scholars, others are targetting a broad general public of potential readers. Project Gutenberg is a good example. Their objective is to produce large numbers of etexts for public reading, and they want to change society in general by doing so. They aren't as interested in the concerns of scholars. As a result they sometimes create their own editions of texts - standardizing spelling, punctuation, modernizing language - and they often don't indicate what edition was used, or what changes were made. They don't see it as important, from the viewpoint of their mandate: they're more interested in creating a sort of "Everyman" resource. And for the target audience they're concerned with, they do a terrific job.

One advantage of the internet is that you can generally ask someone and find out more about what's being done by a particular project. I know something about Gutenberg's practice and philosophy because I've talked with Michael Hart, their director.

Other projects, especially those founded and funded academically, are more concerned with scholarly issues. In the Celebration, I'm trying to reach both communities. I don't see putting up a scholarly-creditable edition of a text, as something that is incompatible with attracting lots of other readers as well! My goal is to make women's writing more accessible to lots of people, not just scholars - I'd like to change culture - and I see those as compatible pursuits.

Having said that, back to the question of provenance. You can tell quite a lot about the provenance of a text from the way it's put up, and from supporting information at the site where it appears. The Victorian Women Writers project and other sites, including my own, often give detailed information about the sources of the etexts they're putting up. As a general rule, the more information someone gives you, the better off you are, in terms of knowing what you're dealing with in the text. This rule also applies to reprint editions; if the publisher of a reprint of an old work gives you no more than the title, author, and original year, you don't really know much about the text. But if they tell you what the original publisher and year were for the base text of the current edition, you're better off. If they've tried to recreate certain features of the text, like the original pagination and formatting, and they tell you what changes were made, and what was retained, that's even better. If they've provided actual scans of pages from the original book, like a facsimile edition, better still. If that information indicates that the edition you're looking at is based on a credible print edition, and hasn't been changed in significant ways, it's likely that you can believe it - there's little to be gained by intentional deceit.

Working on electronic texts has in itself been an education in just how much printed texts may vary from edition to edition!

Since you asked specifically about what I do at the Celebration, I'd have to say that I have editions with various levels of "provenance". The older and more rare the original, the more likely it is that I'll try to create something that's as close as possible to the original text. Ideally, an on-line edition includes all the original publication information, gives page breaks, and follows the original's use of italics, spelling, and punctuation. (However, in my editions I don't preserve line breaks for prose, and I standardize the position of the page numbering to the start of the page, regardless of where the original places them.) I'll often include a couple of page scans, as examples, so people can see what the original font and typesizes looked like. I also include notes to indicate ways in which my transcription differs from the original book. When I include scanned illustrations from the original, I try to ensure that they appear on the same page that they originally did, but their exact placement in the text may differ, depending on how hard it is to replicate in html, and whether the placement varies with the browser presentation. That's one of the tricky issues - someone can specialize their browser, or a particular browser can use different conventions - so I don't see it as worthwhile to try to recreate all the details of font size, placement, etc. Special characters also can cause problems and be hard to recreate, at least in any way that will allow them to be transported across browsers. Good examples of carefully recreated books at the Celebration include Anne Finch's "Miscellany Poems", and Amelia Edwards "Pharaohs, Fellahs, and Explorers" - the chapter with hieroglyphics was a killer! Both were rare books which I wanted to reproduce carefully, since they would be hard for readers to find in print editions. In both cases, certain changes were made to create the on-line edition, and documented therein.

In the BUILD-A-BOOK initiative, I'm usually less concerned with reproducing details of the edition involved. In many cases, I'm using modern editions of books which have frequently been reprinted, rather than rarer originals. This is largely a pragmatic decision: I need to find editions that aren't particularly valuable, that many people can work from. In such cases, I generally give less publication information in the on-line edition - in a worst case, just title, author, and year - and no pagination. Unless I know I'm working from a facsimile edition, I don't want to make assumptions about whether the reprint publisher has changed something, unknown to me. Good examples of this are Virgina Woolf's "Monday or Tuesday" and Susanna Moodie's "Roughing It In the Bush". Both were based on modern reprints, which may or may not exactly mirror their originals. Someday I would love to compare these to rare editions, and indicate more detailed publication information, but in the meantime, the lack of detailed publisher information is a tip-off that I'm less certain of the provenance of the on-line edition, and so should you be, as the reader.

There are likely to be errors in on-line editions, but that's true in print editions as well. A key issue is how well the material has been proof-read. Generally, the more proof reading passes that occurred, and the more people that were involved in proof-reading the edition, the more likely it is that errors have been caught. In the BUILD-A-BOOK part of the Celebration, people create on-line books collaboratively. We always do at least two proof-passes on a text - we initially did three, but weren't finding a big payoff from the extra round. The person entering the text initially is responsible for doing at least one first pass on the text before sending it to me. A second complete proof-reading pass is done after standardizing the formatting in html. Having different people do the two passes is very useful; the more often you've seen the text, the harder it is to spot the errors in it. We're very pleased with this two-person two-pass system. Other sites do as many as three passes; I haven't heard of anyone doing more.

An advantage of on-line editions is that they can be changed to correct errors. For example, someone wrote me because they'd caught an error in a chapter of "Understood Betsy" - which went through three passes - Betsy was concerned about putting her "food" on a log path instead of her "foot". Oops! But once that was reported, it could be corrected and updated within minutes. Every person who reads the text is a potential assistant for improving it.

Of course, the volatility of the net also means that there's a risk of an edition disappearing or changing in less desirable ways. This is the problem of shifting targets - what you saw and approved last week might not be what you'd see if you go back this week. In web-sites generally, this is a real problem. I'm constantly finding broken links, as people move or resources change.

One can hope that change in the world of on-line books is likely to be change for the better, though - a mistake corrected; pagination or notes added to an initial base text at a later time - rather than change for the worse. There's little reason to introduce mistakes - unless one's trying to intentionally bowdlerize a text for some reason. And hopefully, as in print editions, that sort of change would be identified and become known, just as changes to texts like "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" by Anne Bronte, for example, are known.

That's a general outline of some of the issues that I see as relevant, in judging the provenance of on-line editions. On-line, it becomes increasingly important for consumers of information to be critical of what they see, and to think about the credibility of sources and the veracity of the information they're receiving. These aren't new issues - they've been true of other media - but they become much more essential because of the range of material presented on the web, from all sorts of sources with widely varying knowledge and communication skills.

Q. I have a book called Title It is dated some date and is signed personally by the author. The value of the book is in question and we would like to know how it stands out in her collection. Would you have any insight on the worth of this book?

A. I'm afraid I'm not knowledgeable in the world of bookselling. You'd be better advised to contact someone in a rare bookstore. Or you could check a site such as Bibliofind at http://www.bibliofind.com/ which lists books from many rare book stores, to see what prices they list for this or similar works. Their listings often include information about details such as signatures: this may help you to get some idea of the market value of your copy.

Q. In the writer listings, what does the "fl." mean before some single dates, for example, "Zurinah Hassan (fl. 1974)"?

A. The notation "fl." is short for "flourished". A date line such as "fl. 1974" simply means that the writer was active in that year. I use this when I don't have any information about birth or death year, but do have publication information indicating when the writer's works were originally being published.

Q. I have begun reading Title online through your project, but I am finding it difficult to be online when I want to read. Is there a way I could download the book?

A. If you want to download the entire book as a single file, that can't always be done with the books on the Celebration site. Many readers have limited resources and can't load an entire book at once, so we have chosen to separate most books, particularly long or illustrated ones, by chapter. This also has the advantage that someone putting together a curriculum, who needs to link to only a part of a work, can do so easily. I realize that this is somewhat inconvenient for those who would prefer to download the entire work at once. If you prefer to read off-line, you can print the book out chapter by chapter, by following the "Next" links at the end of each chapter. (You don't need to go back and forth to the table of contents each time.)

Q. I would like to link to the Celebration and some of its resources. Do I need permission to do this?

A. Please go ahead and link to the Celebration! You don't need to ask permission to do this. I am delighted to have people point to the site, and very happy that you are finding it helpful and enjoyable. I have tried to organize it in a way that will make it easy for people to navigate through it, and to link to materials they find of interest, whether it be as readers, as students, or as teachers building up curricula for use in classes. I'm also happy to hear suggestions about what people would like to see.

Q. You have already created on-line editions of several books that we were hoping to include in our on-line collection. Might we use them? We'd be pleased to give you credit and put in a link to your site.

A. In several cases, we have donated copies, or given permission for copies of our public domain on-line editions to be made, at other sites (c.f. Project Gutenberg, 19th Century Women Writers). We are willing to have "daughter" editions made, under the following conditions:

  1. You must explicitly write to us, tell us what books you are interested in, and ask permission to use our files as a basis for a derivative edition. While most of the books on the Celebration are public domain editions, some may be copyrighted materials reproduced with permission of the author. Copying these would be a copyright violation: check with us first.
  2. The "daughter" editions must be distributed free of charge, and not for profit. If your intent is to charge fees for use, or otherwise make a profit from copies of our editions, then we consider it reasonable to expect you to recompense us for use of our materials.
  3. The Celebration of Women Writers must be credited for the creation of the source edition, preferably with a link back to our site. If volunteers were involved in the creation of our edition, we ask that the volunteers involved be explicitly credited in the "daughter" edition, so that they continue to receive recognition for their work.
  4. These same conditions should be applied if you, in turn, are asked for copies of any "daughter" editions based on our texts.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom