Sunday, January 16, 2011

Typecast: Crowd-sourced compendium of typewriter knowledge

A bit ranty towards the end, but I've been mulling over this for a couple of days and wanted to post it up for your thoughts and reactions.


  1. Regarding the first part, it is indeed interesting that communities centered around various interests and hobbies have developed via the internet, providing a way of sharing information, how-to advice and such. With typewriters it is kind of funny that we use such a modern, advanced technology to research old, out-of-date technologies.

    Regarding the second part, it seems that if someone is simply scanning information to pass on, the copyright thing shouldn't be a big deal. If a person is making money, that may be an issue although I don't know at what point it becomes infringement. I mean, used book stores make money on books that have copyrights. What is the difference between that and a typewriter manual?

  2. I don't know the legal status of posting manuals and the like of typewriters. I am sure, in some scenarios, it is violating copyright laws, but like most laws, there needs to be someone enforcing said law. I think a lot of times, a company will send a cease and desist order and if you don't comply, then there could be some court actions.

    With that being said, I wouldn't think twice about posting a manual or other text I got pertaining to typewriters, to share with the community.

  3. The new cliché is "information wants to be free." With the Internet, anything that consists of a patterning of matter rather than matter itself (text, images, sounds, numbers -- but not food, equipment, etc.) can be distributed in great volume, at great speed, at negligible cost. For instance, I just electronically published an issue of a newsletter on another obscure topic (not typewriters!). The PDF has now been downloaded over 700 times, at no cost to me or readers. It's a wonderful system and the logical outcome of telegraph technology dating back to the early 19th century.

    In this case, the individual considering scanning these documents might have to go to some serious trouble, and the number of people who would really want and use them is small. Due to the size of the files, a disc might be the best way to distribute them. I can understand wanting to be paid for this labor. Plus, he's a professional in this field and understandably wants to make a little profit. As for copyright, if the companies that created these documents are long out of business, it seems like a moot point.

    I have a photocopy of Remington serial number records, about 200 pages, which in theory I'd like to make available to all interested. You know, now that we have a high-speed scanner at my office, this wouldn't be so hard. Hmmm ....

  4. Snohomish - Good observation about the used book stores, although I suppose there could be the contention that a book is not as easily duplicated as a digital file. The original book, whether or not the text is still under copyright, would have been obtained by the bookstore at some cost.

    Deek - That's a great point; it's probably not in anyone's interest to enforce copyrights of old typewriter manuals. Until such a time as the defunct companies hire lawyers to produce the cease-and-desist letters, we shall keep posting :)

    Richard - Love the distinction between "patterning of matter" and "matter itself". It is becoming increasingly difficult to make money off the patterning, I would imagine. Point taken about the time and effort to scan in what could very well be hundreds if not thousands of pages (I hadn't realized it would be that much). I'm just wondering if there is not a simple way in which that information - and your Remington records - could be incorporated into the existing typewriter database. Maybe there isn't.

    That said, what about the contention that making typewriter manuals available online eats into the income of authorized dealers? Of course it is in this individual's interest to make such a claim, but given that he is presumably selling the same copies that we are providing for free (and to which he does not hold a copyright either), it seems a bit much. Considering that the companies in question folded years ago, I'm not entirely sure that the 'authorized dealer' title still holds much water.

  5. I love this discussion. It brings up both the strength and weakness of crowd-sourcing. It's great that we can usually get some kind of answer, but the gaps are frustrating. Sharing what amounts to ephemera shouldn't be a legal issue, but somebody somewhere still owns it, probably without realizing it. Scanning and posting does take time and effort - the way to make it pay is to use it as bait to get eyes on what you do sell, or advertise for those who do.
    I sure wish we could all organize a central repository though.

  6. What a coincidence! I just made . Hello right-holders? I will check the flickr licences, though.

  7. I think it's absurd for a company to get narcy about re-publishing an operating manual for a product that's no longer manufactured, and whose company has gone out of business. A greedy person with too much time on his hands dreams up ways to annoy people who are actually keeping his product alive. I would seriously doubt that an issue like that would even go to trial - there is such a thing as the *spirit* of the law; and any sane judge would likely throw it out (note, I am NOT a lawyer ;-)). If the manual isn't being used to make money (and how could it?), then everything we do to preserve it online is in the spirit of archiving useful or historical material. We are doing the original brand a service, not the other way round.

    One person's free access is another's perceived impingement. If the machines are still being sold, I'd say OK, it's copyrighted for profit protection. And yes, the rights may have passed on and still be valid for a couple more years, but gee, doesn't it smack of desperation to squeeze ANY profitability out of it now? Talk about being stuck in the 20th century ;-)

  8. I am continually amazed by the amount of rationalization people engage in regarding issues of legality, and questions of copyright law are among the most common. And the most common misunderstandings in copyright are "fair use" and "make a profit", followed closely by "let 'em sue me". Mostly it seems to be a case of "I want this stuff and I'm confident that no one will bother me about it." And usually they're right about not being bothered.

    But if we're honest about the truth, if something is protected by copyright (and it may not be; copyrights do expire eventually, unless you're Disney), then it may very well be illegal to copy it, with or without dissemination, depending on precise circumstances.

    Those circumstances that make it legal do not include copying an entire piece and giving it away for free; making a profit is not an issue in copyright violation; the copying is. When you copy a song off a friend's commercial CD and give the CD back, you are violating copyright, regardless of whether you sell more copies or give 'em away or just enjoy it yourself. And even if you pay your friend for it.

    "Fair use" is complex and I am not competent to tackle that here except to guess that none of us here are competetent either. The court will do that if it comes up.

    All that said, I side with pretty much everything people have said in these comments. Let's just not fool ourselves with faulty rationalizations.

    Certainly it is useful to help each other out in our maintenance and use of these old machines. Certainly no defunct company is going to bother us. Even a current company is not likely to bother us about discontinued products. (They might, however, resent us keeping old technology alive instead of buying new--not likely with typewriters, though.) And certainly copyright is on the verge of being massively disrupted and many of us would like to help that along. Let's just not fool ourselves with faulty rationalizations.

    An "authorized dealer" (of obsolete manuals?) complaining that others are giving away what he is selling? I don't know the details here but basically I'm thinking, "Tough." The only market for antique instruction manuals should be for originals, for people who value antique paper. If I just want to know how to work the device, c'mon, make it easy. At the same time, if he has spent effort in scanning and making a decent CD, then don't rip off that work. Get the free download somewhere else.

    This is enough. Thanks for your patience.

    Adwoa, once again, thanks for brining up a great topic!

    Michael Hoehne

  9. @Notagain - Indeed, I think what is happening is that the current copyright owners do not realize - or care to enforce - their rights in the case of typewriter-related ephemera. The copyrights are still valid, though, which leaves us in a bit of an awkward position. In any case, I find scanning and posting not to be too much trouble, but I already had the documents anyway. If I was going out of my way to acquire them, that would be another matter. I think a central repository is an excellent idea - the forums are running out of bandwidth for large files and pdfs, and perhaps organizing a folder over at ScribD or some other site where everyone can put up what they have is the next logical step. What do others think?

    @Shordzi - Great job on the manuals! I think it's a fine addition to and you've done an excellent job of scanning too.

    @Rino - That is where I find myself also: the fact is that those of us who post them up are not looking to make money off the manuals, just to archive this material. I think what it comes down to is that at the moment, the copyright holders are not actively providing this information (for free or for sale), so we are not cutting into their market share by providing the manuals ourselves. Until such a time as they decide to reproduce and sell manuals themselves, we are probably doing them a service, as you said.

    @Michael - I agree that our rationalization is tortuous and ultimately probably incorrect. The manuals are indeed under copyright and at any time the rights holders may contact us to take them down, at which point I shall comply. My initial intention in writing this post was to suss out where you all stood on this issue, and the conclusion seems to be that we all appreciate having this information online. At the moment, there seems to be no harm done as the copyright holders have not complained yet.

    That said, a Google search turned up a 10-year-old incident where the Nikon USA company requested that their manuals for some film cameras (which they no longer sold or intended to sell) be taken down from a photography site that sought to make them available for buyers of second-hand equipment:

    Hopefully, a similar situation will not arise with typewriter manuals, but we have to resign ourselves to the fact that it very well might in the future. No need to panic before it does, though.

    I am not particular about dating typewriters, so I was not interested in acquiring this fellow's CD in any case. Indeed, if someone insists on being paid for his effort/ making a profit, we should respect his wishes and get free information elsewhere. I was only concerned that if there is just one extant copy, as is being claimed, then putting the information behind a paywall, as it were, will do little to preserve it.

    Thank you very much everyone for a very lively and informative discussion.

  10. To that last point, we could always "crowd source" the money to by the information behind the paywall and then make it available for free thereafter.

    Is there a central repository out there for typewriter manuals? If not, that's a really good idea...

  11. I am fully aware that copyrights on the handful of manuals which I have scanned and uploaded (and those I am hosting on behalf of others) are still owned *somewhere*. You might be surprised at how many defunct brands are owned by Olivetti. If ever I'm asked by a copyright holder to remove them, I will.

    The twofold intention behind them is to help out the person who just needs to know how a particular piece works or thread the ribbon--and that in turn reduces the number of "How do I?" e-mails I have to answer. The quality of the scans are low enough that they could not reasonably be said to undercut the high-quality reproductions being sold by others.

    In addition to the manuals, there is a sizable set of material in my archives which will never be scanned and uploaded to MoLG. A lot of it was proprietary information intended for internal use and for dealers: line books, blue books, parts catalogs, service manuals, etc. Unlike user manuals, this is stuff that was never meant to be widely distributed to the public. Distributing it would, IMO, cross the line between what a copyright holder would likely turn a blind eye to, and material they probably do not want made public.

    That doesn't mean that I'm not more than happy to copy a page or two when people need it. I'm just not going to throw the whole thing out there.

    I think that original serial number records fall into the "proprietary data" category. I do think that if one of those is "the world's only copy", then at a minimum an archival copy should be made, pronto. Is he within his rights to try to profit from data that he didn't create? I don't know about that. But he is well within his rights to ask for some compensation for the amount of time and effort it would take to produce the copies.

  12. Deek - I don't know how feasible it would be to purchase the information and "liberate" it. It would depend on how much this person was asking per copy plus his perception of the perceived market for this information. If he is very optimistic about his prospects, as I could imagine he very well might be, the price could be quite high and thus not worth it for most of us (personally, I doubt I will have use for the information, I merely used this case as an example to explore the topic).

    As for the central repository, so far MoLG is doing an excellent job hosting quite a few manuals from his collection and others, so it's the closest we have.

    MoLG - Thank you so much for chiming in, I was hoping to hear from you. Indeed, I did not know that Olivetti had bought up many defunct brands (besides owning Underwood, that is).

    Interesting that certain proprietary information does not pass the test for online sharing because it was not meant to be widely distributed. That had not occurred to me, and I will admit that it sounds rather cautious.

    While specifications intended for internal use might be quite obscure and are probably beyond my understanding, I find the information provided to dealers quite interesting to see: particularly examples of available type styles, color schemes, and price lists. Where I have found those documents (only once, for Hermes), I have indeed scanned and uploaded them as a useful complement to the instruction manual and our own anecdotal knowledge.

    I think what it comes down to is that even if a full set of instructions was provided online for building your own Hermes 3000 (or other typewriter), taken from Paillard internal documents of the era, few would attempt the endeavor - there is no commercial gain to be made from reproducing the old technology. It would seem such documents are thus solely of historical interest. I would be quite surprised if, after turning a blind eye to online reproductions of their manuals, a defunct company (or their current legal representative) objected strenuously to the provision of a line book or service manual.

  13. Olivetti now owns the following brands:

    (Adler, Triumph, Imperial and Royal were included in Olivetti's acquisition of Litton.)

    Smith-Corona is now a division of Kleinschmidt, Inc.

    Olympia I *think* is now held by Toshiba (which has a stock-sharing partnership with Olivetti).

    The corporate remains of Remington are now part of Unisys, and by the late '80s all of its electric and electronic typewriters were made by Brother.

  14. Very interesting.

    So far as I am aware, the lineal corporate descendant of the vaunted L.C. Smith & Bros. / Corona Typewriter Company empire occupies one small office in nearby Cleveland, probably with one or maybe two desks and seemingly no actual manufactured product available at the moment. I cannot imagine that either of the people likely to actually work there (perhaps a bankruptcy trustee and secretary..?) would know or care if anyone published a manual for operating or rebuilding a typewriter.

    But the living descendants of an individual who published one himself (or got one published) might - and a big surviving corporation might. Like Ames. That's where you have to draw the line if you're me, and you would love to get real information out to over 1500 people at once without infringing on rights.

    Many years back the late John Tomlinson asked, and got permission, to place old Consumer Reports articles in my forum with the proviso that they only got used internally and never republished. I promised that would be the case as the founder and owner, and have upheld it - so in terms of actually requesting rights to use such material with provision we're batting a thousand. What I did not do was put any of that material on my vast website anywhere - heck, we already fix and test the heck out of everything we get so there was no need!

    Great blog you have here, Adwoa!


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