Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 231. Friday, 20 Sep 1991.
From: Ken Steele <
Subject: Oxford Text Archive vs Public Domain Texts
Date: Fri, 20 Sep 1991 13:05
Dear Fellow SHAKSPEReans;
I've put Lou Burnard's information letter and my own response to it in
separate digests because they are both somewhat lengthy. I will be
sending copies of both to Lou, as he is not subscribed to the list.
Otherwise, please don't cross-post this note; the Oxford Text Archive's
texts of Shakespeare are central to the discussion of any public domain
text project, and my response is more a defense of that concept than an
indictment of the Archive itself.
My objections fall into four basic categories: 1) that the Archive and
its policies are biased toward technology and attitudes pre-dating the
personal computer revolution; 2) that very few of the Archive's
Shakespearean texts are available for teaching purposes; 3) that NONE
of the Archive's texts can be freely distributed; and 4) that the
Archive's "modest media charges" would amount to $900 for the Quarto
and Folio texts of Shakespeare on diskette.
I have met Lou, both electronically and personally, and I have great
respect both for the Oxford Text Archive and for him. I hope that he
can contradict or correct me on as many points as possible; nothing
would please me more than to discover that the OTA's Shakespeare texts
are available for $50 for the asking, or that they can be posted on
Fileservers, distributed to colleagues, and given away free. Even if
he cannot contradict me now, I hope that some of the Archive's
policies change over time to invalidate my complaints.
1) Mainframe Bias:
No-one will dispute the pioneering and valuable work done by the
Oxford Text Archive since its founding in 1976. It has collected,
catalogued, and maintained fragile electronic data through hardware
revolutions which produced the personal computer. Its policies,
however, seem to reflect a pro-mainframe, pro-institutional bias which
ignores the information revolution, the rapid growth of computer
networking, and the rise of concepts such as shareware, public domain,
and "Copyleft" software and texts. The OTA's preference for
mainframe tapes over diskettes reflects this bias, and is clearly more for
the convenience of the Archive than its users, few of whom would wish
to study a mere twenty megabytes of text on a mainframe when part of a
hard disk would suffice, and would bring it within the range of far
more sophisticated and user-friendly text analysis programs.
Mainframe tapes can, of course, be converted, at the cost of several
days' downloading and some careful proofreading, to diskette. I have
done this myself, and it is considerably easier than it would be to
work with the boxes of computer cards Howard-Hill created in the
1960s. For this we owe thanks to the Archive. The primary difficulty
with the Archive's texts, however, are the restrictions put on their
use, and this is why I think the proposed Public Domain Shakespeare is
a valuable and important project.
2) Conditions of Use:
In his note, Lou summarizes "very briefly" the conditions of use:
Texts with a U or U* prefix are freely available for scholarly use,
including teaching and research. Texts with an A- prefix are probably
also available, but their depositor has requested us to pass all
enquiries to him/her first for vetting.
Other published information from the Archive specifies, however, the
distinction between availability code "U" and "U*":
U Freely available for scholarly use in private
U* Freely available for scholarly use in private
research and also for teaching purposes.
If this remains true (and Lou's use of the two codes suggests they are
still in use) then only TWO of the long list of Shakespearean texts
can be used "for teaching purposes":
U*-2-A | Contention of York & Lancaster (2 Henry 6, 1594).
Depositor: Bill Montgomery. [original spelling; on RLIN]
U*-1381-A | Macbeth (Arden ed). Ed. Kenneth Muir. London:
Methuen. Depositor: Willy Lutkemeyer, D of English, gymn.
am Markt. [On RLIN]
Presumably this means that teachers can distribute paper copies of the
texts, or parts of the texts, to their classes. (This does not mean
that actors can produce their own scripts, or that researchers can
share text files, and it probably does not mean that one could create
a hypertext system based on the text.) Furthermore, 15 of the Shakespearean
texts listed in Lou's note require written permission from the depositor
before they can even be obtained.
3) The User Declaration:
Much more restrictive policies appear on the Archive's "Official Order
Form". Before placing your order for texts from the OTA, you must
date and sign the following "User Declaration":
"In consideration of The Oxford Archive agreeing to supply me
certain texts in machine-readable form together with supporting
documentation as listed in Part Two below, hereinafter called
'the texts', I hereby undertake:-
(1) To use the texts for purposes of private scholarly research
only and not for profit (this shall not preclude the
publication in a scholarly context of analyses or
interpretations derived from the texts). To use and make
available to others for educational purposes only texts
specifically designated as `available for teaching purposes'.
(2) To acknowledge in any work, published or unpublished, based
in whole or in part on analyses made of the texts both the
original depositors and the Archive.
(3) Not to copy in whole or in part the text, except insofaras
this may be necessary for security purposes or for my own
personal use. Not to distribute the text to third parties,
nor to publish or reproduce it in anyway, except for teaching
purposes, where so permitted. Copyright of all
machine-readable texts issued by the Archive is reserved to the
(4) To give access to the text only to persons directly
associated with me or working under my control and to
require of such persons signed undertakings neither to use
the text except in connexion with my academic purposes nor
to give access to the text to others; these signed
undertakings to be made available to the Archive on request.
(5) Not to hold the Archive liable for any errors of
transcription which may be found in the texts, but to notify
the Archive of such errors wherever possible.
(6) To pay such charges as the Archive may determine from time to
time to cover the cost of supplying the texts."
The key restrictions are these, then: (3) not to make copies
or distribute the texts, to recognize the Depositors' copyright,
and to reproduce only texts so permitted for teaching purposes; and
(4) to give access to the texts only to those who sign the same
undertakings and are directly under your supervision.
There seems very little difference between this "User Declaration" and
the licensing agreements of WordCruncher or Oxford University Press for
their electronic editions, except perhaps that the Archive's contract
can be held in force even when the texts themselves are well out of
4) Media Charges:
Lou's note rightly indicates that one can obtain the entire First
Folio from the Archive, on mainframe tape, for about 30 pounds, or $60.
To obtain the 26 available quartos, however, the Archive charges five
pounds per title, so that even if all 26 titles fit onto a single
tape, the cost would be 155 pounds, or $310. Lou's offer to transfer
the individual titles to floppy diskettes suggests that 2-5 plays will
fit on each, but doubtless this is based on the highest capacity
1.44mb variety. Still, if we assume an average of 3 plays per diskette,
the figures look like this:
1 text title 5 pounds $ 10 (Can.)
35 plays (12 diskettes) 180 pounds $360
Total: 185 pounds $370
26 text titles 130 pounds $260
26 plays (9 diskettes) 135 pounds $270
Total: 265 pounds $530
So the Quarto and Folio texts of Shakespeare on diskette would total
the rather staggering sum of $900! (And I disagree WHOLEHEARTEDLY with
the argument that those wishing to use the entire Folio, or Folio and
Quartos, would probably not want them on diskette -- I myself, and a
great many Shakespeareans I have met in person or electronically all
agree that we would prefer diskettes to tape. Most scholars, textual
critics, and editors could use these files on their desktop computer
on a regular basis.)
Now, I will not dispute the Archive's claim to be a non-profit
organization, but in the Archive Shortlist distributed at the Dynamic
Text conference in Toronto two years ago, Lou painted the Archive in
these glowing terms:
It is a service to scholarship.... Like other
non-profit-making, idealistic and faintly anachronistic
institutions, it needs your support.
The anachronism is clear, the idealism somewhat less so. I fail to
see how the Archive could avoid making a profit by charging $900 for
the works of Shakespeare -- when commercial operations like
WordCruncher, Shakespeare-on-Disk, and even the Oxford University Press
make their modern editions available for much less than $400 -- unless, of
course, the Archive gets few purchasers. Presumably the commercial
publishing houses have advertising expenses, royalties to their
editors, software development charges, and all the usual operating
expenses of a major business -- and their goal is to make a profit,
of course, on top of those expenses. The Archive should have a
distinct advantage, being given texts at no charge, doing virtually no
advertising, and dealing very little with issues of copyright or royalties.
Running a library is of course expensive, but ordinarily the library's
USERS don't have to cover the operating expenses.
The Oxford Text Archive performs a valuable service as an electronic
library or archive, preserving electronic texts of innumerable authors,
famous and obscure, in a wide variety of languages. The practices and
policies of distribution, however, are outdated both technologically
and socially. For university researchers interested in single
large text files, on mainframe tape, the Archive's arrangements are ideal.
For the average individual, however, the Archive's texts are no more
available than other commercial editions of Shakespeare, and for most
they are a good deal less so.
Unquestionably I would like to see the Archive change its policies
toward a more progressive, diskette-based distribution system (if not
via the Internet). It also seems clear that the Archive should create
a single file of Shakespeare's Quartos, which would equal the file of
Folio texts of Shakespeare in convenience and economy. Neither of
these problems are insurmountable; indeed, they will probably be
The major problem with the Archive's texts, like those of commercial
publishers, is that they restrict the user's ability to reproduce
them, distribute them, and make valuable study, performance, and
research tools available to the widest number of people possible.
The Archive's policies foster an elite with access to texts, rather
like the days of manuscript and vellum books, rather than a world in
which texts are readily available to everyone.
William Shakespeare's works have been in the public domain for centuries;
isn't it worth the time and effort to bring them back to the public
domain once more?
University of Toronto