Sunday, July 04, 2010

Libraries Challenge Copyright Law

I've griped a few times about the limited number of "copies" of ebooks available from my county library system. It seems that close to 90% of the books are always checked out (and that I seldom have interest in the other 10% anyway), and getting an ebook via the library's hold list seems to take forever. That's why I'm happy to see this unorthodox approach to making the supply part of the equation more equal to the demand part.

From the Wall Street Journal article:
Libraries are expanding e-book offerings with out-of-print editions, part of a broader effort to expand borrowing privileges in the Internet Age that could challenge traditional ideas about copyright.

Starting Tuesday, a group of libraries led by the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library, are joining forces to create a one-stop website for checking out e-books, including access to more than a million scanned public domain books and a catalog of thousands of contemporary e-book titles available at many public libraries.

And in a first, participants including the Boston Public Library and the Marine Biological Laboratory will also contribute scans of a few hundred older books that are still in copyright, but no longer sold commercially. That part of the project could raise eyebrows, because copyright law is unclear in the digital books arena.
Only one person at a time will be allowed to check out a digital copy of an in-copyright book for two weeks. While on loan, the physical copy of the book won't be loaned, due to copyright restrictions.

The effort could face legal challenges from authors or publishers. Paul Aiken, the executive director of the Authors Guild—which challenged Google's scanning efforts—said "it is not clear what the legal basis of distributing these authors' work would be." He added: "I am not clear why it should be any different because a book is out of print. The authors' copyright doesn't diminish when a work is out of print."

Mr. Kahle said, "We're just trying to do what libraries have always done."

Having to receive prior permission from a copyright owner in order to scan a book is onerous, said Mr. Blake, of the Boston Library. "If you own a physical copy of something, you should be able to loan it out. We don't think we're going to be disturbing the market value of these items."
This is certain to be challenged, of course, but it is interesting to see libraries try something that challenges copyright law this way. The publishing world is changing so quickly that we might not recognize it ten years from now. Good, or bad, change is coming. Please read the Wall Street Journal article, linked above, to get the complete story. You might also want to take a look at the Internet Archive website to see what is already out there.

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