Sunday, August 09, 2015

Indefinite copyright is a joke - the recipe for carrot marmalade proves it

I'm suddenly keen on carrot marmalade.

It's sugar-free and "one of the best remedies against the scurvy". I know this because Captain Cook received a letter in 1771 telling him so as he prepared for his second voyage to Australia.

It's in a book of his correspondence in the National Library, complete with the recipe.

About the beginning of October when the yellow carrots are the sweetest, you take fresh out of the ground as many as you intend to make use of. Take care to chose them well, that none with black spots be left between them.

But it's illegal for the National Library to reproduce it. Anyone who comes in to the library is free to look at it, but if the library tries to put it on its website or someone tries to copy it down, they would be in breach of the law. Seriously.

Under Australian law the copyright on published works expires 70 years after the death of the author. In the United States the constitution specifies that copyright shall last "for a limited time". But not so here. Australian copyright on unpublished works never expires.

This means the National Library is unable to digitise the recipe (although a renegade group known as the Australian Library and Information Association has put it on its website along with recipes for rhubarb chutney and muddle cake as part of Cooking for Copyright Day last Friday in which illegally published recipes were used to create treats for morning teas). Useful information is locked away forever. And not only letters to Cook.

If you intend to make but a small quantity of the marmalade you may grate your carrots upon a tin grater but should you want any large quantity, you may mince or hatch the carrots which you put into a kettle and add as much fresh water that your carrots be covered with about four inches.

The National Library also holds original letters written by Jane Austen, Charles Darwin, Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson and Dame Nellie Melba - about 2 million in all, all of which will never fall out of copyright until the law is changed.

The State Library of South Australia holds the early records of the Holden motor company, including design drawings, from 1853. The War Memorial holds diaries and letters from soldiers who died in World War I. It devotes "enormous" resources to conserving them, but it can't put them online even though that's probably the only way to connect with surviving family members.

When your carrots are boiled enough, you must strain them well through a clean linen, and press the felt well, that all the juice may come out. The dregs are a good food for hogs, geese and ducks.

Australia's copyright term is too long. It was boosted from 50 years after the death of the author to 70 years a decade ago for no reason other than that the United States demanded it in return for granting us a free trade agreement. But that's for public works. The copyright on unpublished works is immortal.

You put the filtrated juice of carrots into another kettle and boil it again over a small fire until it gets the thickness of a fluid honey, at this last boiling you must take great care by constant stirring and by small firing to prevent its sticking to the kettle and burning, which will give to your marmalade a bitter and disagreeable taste.

All our librarians say they want to be able to one day digitise what they've got and share it with us. They've been lobbying the Attorney-General Senator Brandis, but he has other priorities.

In July he rushed through a law that would allow entertainment companies to apply to a court to block sites that illegally displayed programs such as Game of Thrones. It was urgent. Way back in November 2013, he received a series of recommendations from Australian Law Reform Commission report that would open up rather than close down access to information. He was going to carefully consider them.

Brandis is a big supporter of Australia's copyright laws. By waiting rather than acting, he is opening them to ridicule.

Should your marmalade spoil by some accident or other and get some moisture at the top, you take off the moisture with a spoon and boil it again and it will regain its first sweetness.

In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald