Safe Harbour Scheme

There is some good news for Libraries who provide online services. Proposed changes to extend the Safe Harbour Scheme to entities beyond Carriage Service Providers (CSPs) will allow them to be admitted to the Scheme. If the change in legislation is made, this will give some legal protection to libraries to prevent them being sued by copyright interests.
The US copyright agencies (and their Australian arms such as Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft) who usually harass and prosecute copyright users, are opposed to the change, so it would be worthwhile if libraries/librarians spoke up in support.

Has the HathiTrust gone too far?

That is, indeed, the question being posed in the latest court case to be tabled in New York. Along with the US Authors Guild, the Australian Society of Authors, the Union Des Écrivaines et des Écrivains Québécois (UNEQ) and 8 individual authors have submitted a copyright infringement case against the HathiTrust (a partnership of over 50 predominantly university libraries), the University of Michigan, the University of California, the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, and Cornell University. The case asserts that the partners of the HathiTrust:

… obtained from Google unauthorized scans of an estimated 7 million copyright-protected books, the rights to which are held by authors in dozens of countries. The universities have pooled the unauthorized files in a repository organized by the University of Michigan called HathiTrust.

The plaintiffs further assert that the HathiTrust partners’ intention to make available copies of in-copyright works that they have deemed to be orphan works oversteps the boundaries of copyright law. The plaintiffs seem to be arguing against that the HathiTrust’s understanding and determination of what constitutes an orphan work and, thus, what can be done with such works as a result. (The Association of Research Libraries has responded by compiling a useful run down of some of the issues relating to orphan works which makes things a bit clearer.) At present, copyright law seems to be lagging woefully behind when it comes to dealing with digital, or digitised, works.

“This is an upsetting and outrageous attempt to dismiss authors’ rights,” said Angelo Loukakis, executive director of the Australian Society of Authors. “Maybe it doesn’t seem like it to some, but writing books is an author’s real-life work and livelihood. This group of American universities has no authority to decide whether, when or how authors forfeit their copyright protection. These aren’t orphaned books, they’re abducted books.”

The language used by the plaintiffs involved in the case is very emotional which, I suppose, is understandable given that use of copyright material impacts on an author’s ability to receive appropriate income from their works.

“I was stunned when I learned of this,” said Danièle Simpson, president of UNEQ. “How are authors from Quebec, Italy or Japan to know that their works have been determined to be ‘orphans’ by a group in Ann Arbor, Michigan? If these colleges can make up their own rules, then won’t every college and university, in every country, want to do the same?”

The plaintiffs acknowledge that fair dealing allows some copying and reproduction of in-copyright works, but argue that the systematic digitisation of such a large number of works (approximately 7 million) surpasses the exceptions allowed for in fair dealing.

It will be interesting to see what else emerges in the court case to come.

Digital libraries

From an article by Robert Darnton entitled A Library Without Walls

At Harvard, we have conducted a preliminary survey of the projects underway in other nations. We have even located an incipient NDL in Mongolia. The Dutch are now digitizing every Dutch book, pamphlet, and newspaper produced from 1470 to the present. President Sarkozy of France announced last November that he would make €750 million available to digitize the nation’s cultural “patrimony.” And the Japanese Diet voted for a two-year, 12.6 billion yen crash program to digitize their entire national library. If the Netherlands, France, and Japan can do it, why can’t the United States?

I propose that we dismiss the notion that a National Digital Library of America is far-fetched, and that we concentrate on the general goal of providing the American people with the kind of library they deserve, the kind that meets the needs of the twenty-first century. We can equip the smallest junior college in Alabama and the remotest high school in North Dakota with the greatest library the world has ever known. We can open that library to the rest of the world, exercising a kind of “soft power” that will increase respect for the United States worldwide. By creating a National Digital Library, we can make our fellow citizens active members of an international Republic of Letters, and we can strengthen the bonds of citizenship at home.

I think it is interesting that the call is for a national digital library, rather than an international one, as though ideas respected borders and as to requote from the article Thomas Jefferson’s “Knowledge is the common property of mankind.”

Also it seems to me that surely Google (a US company) is already creating an (international) digital library, it has digitised over 12 million books thus far, it has made agreements with a host of international libraries (UK, Spain, Netherlands, Germany etc.), and has committed to digitise every known printed book (all 129 million of them) by the end of this decade.

But aside from Google, there is also The Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg and a host of other smaller ventures by libraries, archives, museums, crowdsourced individuals working in combination and by commercial concerns.

As (nearly) all new books are now being made available in electronic form we will soon be coming to a period where every book is available.

So getting the digitisation done is being handled by both public and private concerns, and remarkably quickly too.
What will however be the issue is the reigning in of the major content producers and their multiple lobbyists and DRM lawyers, so that works are accessible, affordable, and able to be used for (as already gained in paper) fair dealing purposes such as research, criticism and reportage.

The terms in the latest released ACTA draft do not appear to be as bad as expected, so there may be hope yet.

It’s all so GLAM

Last week, Liam Wyatt, the British Museum‘s first ever volunteer Wikipedian in residence, gave a presentation at the National Library discussing some of the recommendations from last year’s Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums & Wikimedia conference, held at the Australian War Memorial. Liam raised some very interesting points in regards to ownership, usage, Creative Commons licensing and copyright of digitised materials held in cultural institutions, as well as talking about the ways that volunteers can play a valuable role in contributing to an institution’s projects, something which this blog has previously touched upon. If you couldn’t get to the NLA last week to see the presentation in person, or want to be reminded of the things that Liam covered, check it out here.

Developments in scanning technology

Researchers at the University of Toyko have developed a new scanner that operates at a rate of 500 frames per second which means that you can simply flip the pages of a book in front of the scanner for it to work. Overlaying a grid on the pages being scanned means that you can leave it up to the computer to flatten out the curves of the page as it was scanned resulting in an augmented, though still fairly good, scanned image. What’s next? Drive by OCR? The only problem I can see is that the most likely candidates for this kind of scanning would be in copyright material – material that is out of copyright is usually a bit older and more fragile and probably shouldn’t be subjected to the flip treatment … but it’s still an exciting development!

Take a  look at how easy the process is in this video.

ISP court determination

A landmark decision on the role of ISP’s and their legal responsibilities has been made by the Australian courts today. ISP’s, the court has found are not liable for their users use of the Internet.

See the story in the SMH here

You may wonder why this is of relevance to Libraries, well because as has been shown by the UK Digital Economy Bill, a public institution that gives users Internet access would also have been as liable to fines and disconnections as an ISP. Thus Libraries could have found themselves liable for all the actions of their public users, which would have made providing access impossible.

Of course Libraries already take some responsibility for their users, but in the same way it is impossible to maintain a watch on a photocopier to check that a user doesn’t photocopy more than 10% of a book, it would have been impossible to check the copyright actions of every user on a public Internet terminal. Admittedly it would be impossible for a public user to download a movie (because of the size and time constraints), but there are many copyright works which are smaller and more accessible. There are a large number of brand new books that are in copyright which are available on the Internet, controlling the download of these reasonably small text files would be difficult.

All libraries can do in this matter is to draw attention to copyright law by signage and education, as we have done with photocopiers for many years.
We should be wary of any further legal attempt to find companies and public institutions liable for the uncontrollable actions of their users or customers.