[KS] DB of Korean Classics

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at koreaweb.ws
Thu Jan 19 16:59:01 EST 2012

Let's just clarify what we are actually talking 
about. That clarification is then already a very 
good part of such a discussion.

First things first:

1. Protecting old texts without copyrights (from 
being downloaded, possible being republished 
elsewhere), THAT was really NOT the issue in the 
earlier emails. The protection issue we had there 
was about a website that has done something with 
such texts ... right? These texts do not just 
march all by themselves from various libraries 
and private collections to some server's data 
base? Those texts are originally not 
electronically searchable. Those texts could 
originally not be copied as 'text' but just be 
viewed on paper. The institute had someone type 
the texts of all those documents, then, over 
years, produced translations into modern Korean 
language as well (at least of the documents I 
saw), then created various other helpful 
tools--e.g. texts by year search. All that is a 
lot of work, even for one single document.
The old texts are not copyright protected--that 
is also my understanding. But again, that really 
was or is not the issue here. The issue is 
clearly that of asking how to hack a site in 
order to "steal" someone's (or some 
institution's) work--the labor that was put into 
preparing these texts, in some cases annotating 
them, translating them, typing and/or otherwise 
converting them, making them searchable on the 

2. Protection vs. public access: The institution 
that created the "DB of Korean Classics" seems, 
from what I can see, have decided to allow public 
access to all the texts as a searchable data 
base, text as text, and not as scanned image. (Or 
are there indeed somewhere download links?) That 
is their decision, and that does make the 
institution to continue to act as some sort of 
gatekeeper. Otherwise they could just disassemble 
their own institute after the job is done. If 
that had been a project by e.g. a public library, 
then maybe that is how it would have been indeed 
have been done. But this is really not the end 
user's decision. I see that Harvard, for example, 
made 473 rare Korean books available for download 
in digital format. But these are then not 
searchable, just scans--no comparison as regards 
to the manpower that the above mentioned 
institute put into their own project, not in 
scope either.
Also, there are just so many institutions in 
Korea that allow all kind of documents and 
publications to be accessed ... a great list of 
links is at:
("Gateway to Korean Studies Materials," here the 
Engl. version). I find all this rather amazing, 
in a very positive sense.

The kind of protectionism that Professor McCann 
mentions, isn't that mostly limited to materials 
that relate to contemporary Korean politics and 
economics and especially to materials about North 
Korea? E.g., IPs from outside of Korea are 
blocked from accessing a number of otherwise 
public or semi-public data bases, or a Korean 
resident registration number (chumin tûngnok 
ponho) is required to get access to them, etc. 
That development goes certainly hand in hand with 
newly implemented and re-implemented censorship 
measures, quite considerable censorship policies 
for a democracy, and that is due to the 
conservative trend under the present government 
which seems not to trust itself and its own 
citizens. Probably also "ahistorical" but I find 
that certainly also a little depressive (still 
have to figure out how to be more "historically 

3. Technical aspects -- Windows and Mac: please 
see my summary, left site at 
http://koreaweb.ws/4_computing.php . Korean 
programmers, and form a few years back I have 
some direct working relations there with one of 
the companies that created several of the major 
Korean studies data bases in Korea, tend to have 
usually some sort of hacker's mentality. What I 
mean here is not at all meant in a morally 
negative sense!! I mean "hacking" in a Urban 
street talk understanding of digital problem 
solving--programming without caring too much 
about international standards. As a programmer, 
when you want to achieve a certain task, you can 
just put a few tools together, new ones and long 
outdated ones, and add some of your own code that 
then solves the immediate problem for this one 
task/website/data base. That has, at least from 
what could see, been the mainstream approach in 
Korea, and also in parts of Europe, and that is a 
very different approach from what you normally 
see in the U.S. If then, however, any of the 
major software developers such as Microsoft, Sun 
Microsystems, Apple, Linux, and other free 
networks come up with an upgrade of e.g. a 
browser, following published general policy 
standards (of how e.g. to code a Java 
application), then these "hack" solutions run 
into problems, are not anymore compatible, AND, 
more important so cannot quickly be fixed by 
their programmers because the entire code base is 
a mess that violates all kinds of standards. As 
you have all noticed, on Korean websites you 
often are limited to use 'Internet Explorer' as a 
browser, and even there it maybe an older version 
(e.g. 6, or 7 -- newest is 9). a lot of sites 
still rely on already mentioned "activeX" which 
is not supported by e.g. Firefox or any Mac 
browser, and Internet Explorer is not anymore 
produced for the Mac--last version 2001 
For most of the Korean websites where Mac users 
have problems, missing activeX support is the 
cause. In other cases it may simply be required 
to change the text encoding from e.g. "UTF-8" to 
the (outdated but in Korea popular) "euc-kr" 
mode. I also noticed that there are various 
"reader" versions, not just for HWP documents 
(where there finally is a new free reader for the 
Mac) but there are also altered Adobe PDF Readers 
that only work on Windows, again no way to create 
these for a Mac because of "activeX." There is no 
technical necessity for such kind of programming, 
not since we have Unicode. And they may 
disappear, just not sure how long that will take.


Frank Hoffmann
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