I do have some information confirming that these scans are in the public domain, in the US and all countries which are signatories to the Berne Convention (including Canada, where I am).
I would point to the excellent guidelines in the 2009 book by Peter Hirtle, special advisor to Cornell University on Intellectual property issues: Copyright and Cultural Institutions Guidelines for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums (the link leads to a free download at Cornell's library.) As it bears directly on this issue--namely a non-profit's library policies and practices--it would be worth at least looking at. My opinions are not solely based on Hirtle, but he is a good, relatively simple, start.
According to Hirtle (p, 45) for an item to have copyright protection in the first place, it has to meet certain criteria. In the US, all items published before 1923 are in the public domain. Their copyrights have, without exception, expired. All works published between 1923 and 1977 without a specific copyright notice never had copyright. They were in the public domain the moment they were published.
None of these materials have copyright notices (by all means, correct me if you can find one.) This means that "Waterman and Parker" never owned them at all, ever. Which means that the PCA did not break the law in copying them, then selling them, and that archive.org can safely distribute them. Or anyone with a website, and sufficient bandwidth.
But what about the work involved in producing the PDFs?
Exact scans of public domain documents are not protected by copyright. Unless they have been changed into something else (like a new edition with an added forward, or perhaps a modern price guide attached, as off-the-cuff examples), they have no protections attached to them, and no one has any right to claim such, including institutions, either for-profit or non-profit. In fact, when an institution using such documents as a source for funding does claim such controls, many in the intellectual property world refer to it as "copyfraud".
In connection with a case heard both in the UK and US, Hirtle states (p.36):
Labor and skill may be necessary to produce what the judge called “slavish copies,” but no distinguishable variation that would go beyond differences in technical skill is required. Nor does changing the medium (from painting to transparencies or digital photographs) by itself generate the originality needed for copyright protection.
These PDFs are exact copies, with nothing added at all. In fact, there is not even any metadata on the files to indicate by whom, or when, they were copied. Nor does there seem to be a 'From the Library of the PCA' stamp anywhere physically on the original copies. So, in fact, nothing other than their format has been changed. And that, as has been established, is not enough to provide copyright, or any other, protection.
the images on the PCA website are not available to the public. They are available only to members, who pay the PCA for the privilege to access them. Therefore, David Armstrong's taking them and making them available for free has impacted the PCA's ability to sell their services by directly taking something from the PCA and giving them out. At this point, we only have David Armstrong's word for it that he got the images from a third party and not directly from the PCA website when he was a member.
That, Mr. Danza, is slander. You have publicly accused me of theft and fraud, based on your assumption of my guilt and your woeful knowledge of the law, and without evidence other than your own bias. That is itself grounds for legal action. But don't worry, international borders make that difficult. Isn't the internet grand?
Or did you just find and publicize what was already in the library?
That isn't quite as egregious as John's claim, but darned close. And your implication is clear.
I am not distributing these files, I am pointing to them. Kind of like the bag-holders lynching the fellow who points to the free cat. And who is now compelled to point out that keeping cats in bags is difficult. And bad for cats.
As far as I'm concerned, it's difficult to understand why someone in our hobby - in which we think nothing of paying hundreds for the objects of our affection - would be too cheap to pay $40 a year to support a non-profit, national organization dedicated to improving the hobby.
I wish I lived in your world, Jon. I don't "think nothing of paying hundreds" for anything. And I haven't decided whether my PCA membership is worth $40. I do have a few documents not in the PCA library, and I did, indeed, consider offering them. But when I saw that the latest Pennant magazines weren't even scanned yet, I figured (perhaps in a fit of negativity) that interest in my Waterman invoice, bad photos of a Grieshaber catalog, and Mackinnon patent, would be fairly low.
We all do well to keep in mind that much of this sort of information is now being digitized, all over the world. Hoards of pens now come to light because of the information age, and the fact that those--once ignorant--have access to information about them. And we rejoice. We can expect to see more of these sorts of documents, and quite likely from unexpected quarters. And not always by those who seek to become wealthy from it, or whose motivations we understand or agree with. And not always by those who come to our conventions, or know the people we do.
I do not wish to harm the PCA. But is it's existence is so tenuous that the loss exclusivity for a few files is worthy of this reaction? If so, it might be worth re-examining the entire organization. This is not something said in spite, but simply the observation of someone at arms-length.