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Happy World Book and Copyright Day 2014

So you have The Legal Genealogist‘s official permission — as if you needed it! — to go ahead and read a book today.

book.dayAnd to honor the legal scheme — the notion of copyright — that encourages authors to write and publishers to publish, all around the world.

It’s World Book and Copyright Day 2014.

This special day is courtesy of UNESCO — the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

And it’s a celebration that aims to promote reading, publishing and the protection of intellectual property through copyright.

And the message for today, from Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO:

The history of the written word is the history of humanity.

The power of books to advance individual fulfilment and to create social change is unequalled. Intimate and yet deeply social, books provide far-reaching forms of dialogue between individuals, within communities and across time.

As Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban for attending classes, said in her speech at the United Nations:

Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons.

On World Book and Copyright Day, UNESCO invites all women and men to rally around books and all those who write and produce books. This is a day to celebrate books as the embodiment of human creativity and the desire to share ideas and knowledge, to inspire understanding and tolerance.

Books are not immune from a world of change, embodied in the advent of digital formats and the transition to open licensing for knowledge-sharing.

This means more uncertainty but also new opportunity — including for innovative business models in the world of publishing. Change is raising sharp questions about the definition of the book and the meaning of authorship in the digital era. UNESCO is leading from the front in the new debates about the dematerialization of books and the rights of authors.

By championing copyright and open access, UNESCO stands up for creativity, diversity and equal access to knowledge. We work across the board – from the Creative Cities of Literature network to promoting literacy and mobile learning and advancing Open Access to scientific knowledge and educational resources. …

In all of this, our goal is clear – to encourage authors and artists and to ensure that more women and men benefit from literacy and accessible formats, because books are our most powerful forces of poverty eradication and peace building.1

There are some really neat resources available that are highlighted by UNESCO because of this special event today:

• for the Memory of the World program, an online register of priceless world heritage items ranging from the 1703 Census of Iceland to the Woodblocks of Vietnam’s Nguyen Dynasty.

• the World Digital Library, with thousands of items ranging from maps to photographs and spanning centuries of world history.

• UNESCO’s own Open Acces Repository, for documents and reference materials on its activities.

So… what about the copyright part? It’s easy to celebrate books, not so easy to make the mental jump to celebrating copyright. We tend to think of copyright as something that stands in our way, keeping us from using something we want, and it often is just that. But it’s also the legal scheme that allows authors and publishers to get paid for their work. And without authors writing and publishers publishing, we don’t have all those books.

So we should celebrate copyright today as well. And some resources to use as we do:

United States: U.S. Copyright Office. Make sure to grab at least the key circulars:

Canada: Canadian Intellectual Property Office. And Canadian genealogists who aren’t members of the Ontario Genealogical Society may want to join just to get the May issue of Families, the OGS Journal. It’s got a terrific article written by Margaret Ann Wilkinson, “Recent Developments in Canadian Law Affecting Genealogists,” covering copyright, privacy rights and more, that makes the whole price of membership worth it all by itself.2

United Kingdom: UK Intellectual Property Office.

European Union: The EU legal framework and see the discussion of the EU plan to modernize copyright law at the Creative Commons blog.

• And around the world everywhere else (since there’s no way to list them all in one blog post): see the list of copyright offices at the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Books. And copyright. Celebrate them both.


  1. World Book and Copyright Day message,” Irina Bokova, Director-General, UNESCO ( : accessed 22 Apr 2014).
  2. Margaret Ann Wilkinson, “Recent Developments in Canadian Law Affecting Genealogists,” Families, Journal of the Ontario Genealogical Society 53 (May 2014): 3-15.
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