Become an Online Publisher

Maybe you saw the “NBC Evening News” segment on Tuesday night on the animated political cartoon, “This Land.” It’s a spoof on Bush and Kerry. The cartoon is a riot. It takes a long time to download if you don’t have broadband. It’s worth it. Hook up your speakers or earphones. Don’t miss Kerry’s use of a hand grenade.

My techie son knew about jibjab. They are brothers who have been doing political satire on-line for years. After segments on “The Today Show” and Tom Brokaw (who ended the segment and the show by calling himself “Tom Brokaw dot com”), jibjab’s traffic must be immense.

This leads me to today’s topic. . . .

The technological breakthroughs on the Web keep coming. No one can keep up. It’s wonderful.

Maybe you aren’t interested in gaining a presence on the Web, but maybe your teenage child or grandchild is. Maybe creating a Website could be a high school project. It would not look bad on a college application.

What if you could put up a site like one of these?

A history of your family
A history of your company
A history of your local church
A history of some event in your town
A history of some great discovery
A history of some misunderstood event
A collection of old cookbooks
A collection of old books in any field
A collection of old magazines, issue by issue
A collection of diaries of local VFW members

This is now easy to do because of a new edition of a familiar product, Adobe Acrobat Pro Version 6.0. It sells at discount at budget software sites for about $150. It has a feature that I have been awaiting for almost a decade. With it, you can convert a scanned-in page to a PDF file. The PDF file looks exactly like the original page. Now you can scan in a book or magazine and post it on-line.

Google’s roaming “spider” automatically converts PDF files into HTML, which is then searchable by Google’s search engine. So, your on-line PDF document will become searchable in a few weeks after it is posted. People who are searching for a phrase in a book or document that you have posted on-line will come across it if the phrase appears in few other documents.

Your site could make you an expert in whatever it is that the site deals with. When looking for a promotion, you would be wise to have public evidence that you are an expert.

You can rent space for a site for as little as $5/month.


In the United States, anything published prior to 1923 is in the public domain and is therefore legal for anyone to publish. Any American book or magazine published after 1923 but before 1964 had to have its copyright renewed in year 29 after original publication. If the publisher and the author forgot to do this, then it’s in the public domain. The odds are that if there was no re-published book after year 28, the copyright has lapsed. The United States Copyright Office searches for this information for $75/hour.

In some nations, the cut-off date is later than 1923. So, if a Website’s hosting company is located in such a country, and the site’s domain name is registered to a person or institution in that country, then the Webmaster of the site, no matter where he personally resides, can legally post materials published later than 1923.

Which nations? Be aware of the document, “USTR Special 301 Review of Intellectual Property.” Here, we read the following:

Ambassador Barshefsky also announced placement of 16 trading partners on the “Priority Watch List”: Israel, Ukraine, Macau, Argentina, Peru, Egypt, the European Union, Greece, India, Indonesia, Russia, Turkey, Italy, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Kuwait. She also placed 37 trading partners on the “Watch List.”

Any interested researcher now has two more search phrases: “watch list” and “USTR.” I need not bore you with the details. The World Wide Web offers anyone a series of handy official lists of nations that are not all that interested in shutting down Websites that publish materials copyrighted in other nations.

But how can you make money? Here is one way. There are magazine publishers out there that would like a CD-ROM of all of their back issues. If you have access to the complete files of a magazine like “The Atlantic Monthly,” you could scan in the complete set through 1922. You could either post these issues on-line or else put them on a CD-ROM, which includes a copy of the free Acrobat Reader. Then go to the present publisher of “Atlantic” and offer to sell the CD-ROM to the subscribers for a 75-25 split (in favor of “Atlantic”) if they run an ad for your CD-ROM. Price it at $79.95. Or sell them the CD-ROM master outright for (say) $10,000. (Price your CD-creation time at whatever you think you’re worth.) Offer to do the same thing for their issues published after 1922 for another $10,000.

They could do this themselves, but why? They would have to pay someone else to do it. They can buy a finished product from you. This is easier, safer, and faster.

Alternative: produce a CD-ROM of your entire site and sell it to people who find your site. People don’t like to spend hours downloading lots of documents from a site. True believers want all of a site in one place.

The next step is to get your site searchable. This can be done with Google, which allows sites to use its search program for site-only searches. Take a look at how this works on Lew Rockwell’s site. Scroll to the bottom of the LRC home page. Google offer this code for free:

There are no doubt other convenient ways of making your CD-ROM searchable. If there aren’t today, there will be soon.

If you create a site or a CD ROM that arranges public domain material in a particular way, the compilation itself becomes subject to copyright protection.

People can legally use a free, downloadable program such as WinHTTrack Website Copier to download your site to their hard disk drive, and then use it legally as if it were a CD-ROM, but most people don’t know this. Legally, they can’t sell your site, but of course people do sell other people’s digital property, and it is almost impossible to stop this.


The era of copyright is coming to a close. It did not last long — about 300 years, and really only since the mid-19th century.

Here is reality. A law that cannot be enforced is merely a suggestion. If it costs more to enforce a law than the returns generated by the law, authorities are not interested in enforcing it unless pressured by the hierarchy to do so. Think “lawsuits,” “lawyers’ fees,” “foreign jurisdiction,” “foreign corporation,” “tax haven,” and “penalties.” Also think “too small to matter.”

The best thing I have read on the looming demise of copyright protection was written in 1994 by John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Freedom Foundation and one of the lyricists for the Grateful Dead. He wrote that the key to copyright enforcement always was the format, not the actual ideas protected. It was control over the bottle, not the wine, that enabled the enforcers to enforce.

Throughout the history of copyrights and patents, the proprietary assertions of thinkers have been focused not on their ideas but on the expression of those ideas. The ideas themselves, as well as facts about the phenomena of the world, were considered to be the collective property of humanity. One could claim franchise, in the case of copyright, on the precise turn of phrase used to convey a particular idea or the order in which facts were presented.

The point at which this franchise was imposed was that moment when the “word became flesh” by departing the mind of its originator and entering some physical object, whether book or widget. The subsequent arrival of other commercial media besides books didn’t alter the legal importance of this moment. Law protected expression and, with few (and recent) exceptions, to express was to make physical.

Protecting physical expression had the force of convenience on its side. Copyright worked well because, Gutenberg notwithstanding, it was hard to make a book. Furthermore, books froze their contents into a condition which was as challenging to alter as it was to reproduce. Counterfeiting and distributing counterfeit volumes were obvious and visible activities — it was easy enough to catch somebody in the act of doing. Finally, unlike unbounded words or images, books had material surfaces to which one could attach copyright notices, publisher’s marques, and price tags.

Mental-to-physical conversion was even more central to patent. A patent, until recently, was either a description of the form into which materials were to be rendered in the service of some purpose, or a description of the process by which rendition occurred. In either case, the conceptual heart of patent was the material result. If no purposeful object could be rendered because of some material limitation, the patent was rejected. Neither a Klein bottle nor a shovel made of silk could be patented. It had to be a thing, and the thing had to work.

Thus, the rights of invention and authorship adhered to activities in the physical world. One didn’t get paid for ideas, but for the ability to deliver them into reality. For all practical purposes, the value was in the conveyance and not in the thought conveyed.

In other words, the bottle was protected, not the wine.

Hollywood has now seen the digital handwriting on the screen. A recent Motion Picture Association of America survey found that 24% of everyone who has a broadband Web connection — 43% of Americans do — have downloaded a movie. Of those who have yet to download a movie, 17% said they planned to do so in the next 12 months.

There is nothing that Hollywood can do about this. If the Web host company is on an island nation that does not honor copyright, or if the movies are being exchanged user to user through file-sharing, the cost of legal action, case by case, is prohibitive. Hollywood has PR stories about how “we are cracking down on piracy,” but it’s all bluff.

The first producer to accept this new reality is Michael Moore. His political film “Fahrenheit 9/11” is the only documentary ever to pull in $100 million at the box office. It is still filling theaters. It is now on-line. Pirate copies are all over the Web. Moore, a political version of Luther, has applauded this. On July 4, the Sunday Herald ran this story: “Moore: pirate my film, no problem.”

Controversial film-maker Michael Moore has welcomed the appearance on the internet of pirated copies of his anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 and claimed he is happy for anybody to download it free of charge.

The activist author and director told the Sunday Herald that, as long as pirated copies of his film were not being sold, he had no problem with it being downloaded.

“I don’t agree with the copyright laws and I don’t have a problem with people downloading the movie and sharing it with people as long as they’re not trying to make a profit off my labour. I would oppose that,” he said.

“I do well enough already and I made this film because I want the world to change. The more people who see it the better, so I’m happy this is happening.” . . .

Distributed via websites such as, which lays claim to having served more than 17 million downloads, Moore’s documentary critique of the Bush administration’s red, white and blue rush into war with Iraq is among the web’s hottest properties.

Thousands of copies of Fahrenheit 9/11 have already been downloaded, each taking about 3.5 hours over a broadband connection.

Ironically, the burgeoning underground market for Moore’s much-debated documentary has been championed by both sides of the political divide. While left-wing sites promote the film’s message, opponents of the high-profile polemicist are urging people to “steal” their copy, thus denying its director his cut of the profits. . . .

Moore said: “Is it wrong for someone who’s bought a film on DVD to let a friend watch it for free? Of course it’s not. It never has been and never will be. I think information, art and ideas should be shared.”

The absence of copyright made possible the Protestant Reformation. Printers published Luther’s writings and cashed in personally. The Roman Catholic Church could not stop all those greedy thieves with their ink-stained fingers. There were too many printers to police. Luther figured this out within a few months of seeing his unofficially translated 95 theses — his challenge to debate publicly in Latin any of 95 theses — selling all over Germany’s principalities. That was in 1517. He then sat down and wrote more pamphlets than most of us can imagine. He became the greatest pamphleteer in history. He made no money on his writings, but he changed Western history. That was good enough for him. It should be good enough for us, too.


Magazine publishers are sitting on top of gold mines. National Geographic understood this early and put all of its old issues in a boxed set of CD-ROMs. This set originally retailed for $350. I bought a set at Sam’s Club for about $180 in 2000. The publisher made millions of dollars. (The box’s photo of an Afghan teenage girl with the huge eyes was worth a fortune as a sales device. A reporter tracked her down a couple of years ago. He showed her the NG cover. That was the only photo she ever had taken. She had not seen it. I wonder if she knows about signed release forms and royalties. Probably not.)

Right wing, left wing, it doesn’t matter. A magazine publisher can now put all of the back issues on-line or in a CD-ROM. Maybe he will hire you to do this on a contract basis if you present him with a free CD-ROM of one year of issues.

With Adobe Acrobat Pro, magazine publishers now have a bonanza available. They can convert long-dead inventory into money. They can offer a CD-ROM set of a complete 60-year set of the magazine for, say, $149.95, or for only $19.95 if someone subscribes or renews his subscription for three years.

I told my friend Arthur Robinson about Adobe Acrobat Pro. He is the publisher of Access to Energy, a highly readable scientific newsletter that exposes myths and lies of anti-growth, anti-free market ecology activists regarding the nuclear energy industry, global warming, and related themes. The newsletter used to be published by the late Petr Beckman. Robinson’s organization owns the publishing rights to all of the back issues.

I told him to post all of the back issues on-line, one by one, as separate documents. On each issue’s front page, he should have a Web page address listed where the reader can buy a CD-ROM set of all of the issues through last year. So, anyone surfing the Web who comes across an issue, reads it, and likes it can go to a Web page where he can read about the entire set and then order it.

This way, the information in each newsletter can get out to thousands of Web surfers, and a few of them will buy the CD-ROM. There are no inventory costs for the CD-ROM, meaning no state inventory taxes to pay — a major reason why publishers take books out of print.

When publishers figure this out and respond to the market, historians will be able to follow the development of any magazine’s ideas. Consider the little-known two-volume book by James J. Martin, American Liberalism and World Politics, 1931-1941 (Devin Adair, 1964). It is a study of the shift in opinion by American liberals regarding foreign policy. In 1931, The Nation and The New Republic were revisionist and anti-war. They regarded America’s entry into World War I as a colossal mistake. By 1941, they were calling for America’s intervention into the European war on the side of Great Britain. This kind of study would be so much easier to write if magazine publishers made available CD-ROMs of their back issues.


Anything ever written for the public for which there is an existing copy can and should be put on the Internet at some point.

Every back issue of every magazine and newspaper should eventually be on-line.

Every collection of private papers in every research library should be posted on-line. Historians should not have to fly to distant cities, pay $100+ a day for lodging and food, in order to spend months going through archives.

The problem has been labor time. Scanning is usually labor intensive: one page at a time, 15—30 seconds/page. But new technologies are speeding up the scanning process. Costs per scanned page are coming down. This will continue.

With Adobe Acrobat Pro and Google, it is now possible to create a searchable on-line library of the world’s total output. This library can be accessed in seconds by anyone with access to the Web. Item by item, collection by collection, this decentralized library can be created. The so-called technological imperative will continue to assert itself on the Internet. “If it can be done, it will be done.”

Lots of hidden facts will come to light. Lots of official lies will be exposed. Lots of revisionist histories will be written. The time period of Establishment historians’ familiar three-part declaration will shorten.

It isn’t true.
It’s true, but so what?
We always knew it was true.


What is your main interest? What out-of-print books do you wish were available to everyone, free of charge? What government documents (automatically public domain) should be on-line?

I created a site, , where readers can download 90 books and hundreds of newsletters free of charge. The site used an old version of Acrobat, which did not reproduce documents faithfully. The site’s PDF and HTML files have many errors. The site used an expensive propprietary program, DjVu, to create perfect image files for the books. Today, Adobe does what DjVu does, and at a fraction of the cost.

My goal for the site is to get wider distribution, which is why I have opened to any electronic publisher or Web site builder the right to reprint digitally, royalty-free, all of the books on the Freebooks site that I wrote.

Creating a Website like my site is a labor of love. You must scan in lots of pages. But if a book is long out of print, and the author is dead, who is hurt if you post his book on-line?

Because authors write books in order to be read, and because out-of-print books are not widely read, and because publishers lose their legal control over any book 12 months after they allow it to go out of print, who is being harmed by posting on-line a PDF file of a book?

If all of the author’s legal heirs agree that you should pay a royalty to the estate, and if their lawyer contacts you, and if your Web site’s host is in a country that honors American copyright law, and if your site’s domain name is registered in that country, then you should remove the book from the site. Tell the lawyer that you made a mistake, that you had reason to believe that the book was in the public domain. No harm, no foul.

Start thinking about that collection of forgotten documents which ought to be remembered. Start thinking about how you can get them on-line, available for free or for a fee. Start thinking about where the domain name should be registered and where the Web host should be located.

I will write more on this later. I’m just trying to get you thinking about this. There are opportunities out there that you may have overlooked. Start looking over what you have overlooked.

July 27, 2004

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit For a free subscription to Gary North’s newsletter on gold, click here.

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