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The Quest of the Missing Maps: Copyright, Deposit Copies, and the Pamphlet Curse

Authors: Mark Monmonier*, Syracuse University
Topics: Cartography, Historical Geography
Keywords: history of cartography, copyright, map collections, intellectual property
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Copyright Act of 1909 required submission of two “deposit copies” of any map registered for copyright: one as a referent for assessing originality or warding off infringement and the other to enrich the Library of Congress. Research for a biography of John Byron Plato, an innovative map publisher active in Upstate New York throughout the 1920s, revealed a substantial discrepancy between the holdings of the Library’s Geography and Map Division and the 29 “Clock System” maps and “rural directories” Plato had registered for copyright, as reported in the Catalog of Copyright Entries. Some might never have reached the Division because they were attached to a thin directory of names associated with the map—an association likely to have won them less sympathetic treatment as a pamphlet, not as a map. Indeed, 21 of the 29 registrations were classified as pamphlets even through an I-know-it-when-I-see-it test would clearly have flagged them as maps. Others might have been deemed too quotidian for the national map collection. Ironically, the Division’s catalog includes a “Clock System” map for which copyright was not registered—it had been donated to the Division in 1992—as well as a “Clock System” map of an area in Colorado possibly produced jointly with another publisher. By the late 1920s Plato had become less rigorous in registering his copyrights, possibly because he also held a patent on the "Clock System." Fortunately, Special Collections at Cornell University has a nearly complete set of the maps Plato published in New York.

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