November 3, 2011
Copyright Office Issues Report On Mass Digitization
Anyone who may have read my post on BNA content being available through Google News may have clicked on the link I gave to the specific BNA content. If so, the story Copyright Office Report Outlines Issues Surrounding Mass Digitization of Books would have appeared. The BNA analysis examines the Copyright Office’s latest report, Legal Issues in Mass Digitization: A Preliminary Analysis and Discussion Document. This was promised by the report Copyright Office in Priorities and Special Projects of the United States Copyright Office. I wrote a post about that document earlier in the week.
The Legal Issues in Mass Digitization document is a comprehensive examination of the current state of efforts in the United States as copyright may apply to them. It starts with the rejection of the Google Book Settlement and points out that the ultimate issue in the case, whether mass digitization of copyrighted works is fair use, is not resolved. This is in the backdrop of other mass digitization efforts that exist, though nothing that has come before exists at the scope of Google’s undertaking.
If I may read anything into this document, it would be that mass digitization is generally a good thing; that other countries value their historical and cultural institutions by undertaking their own substantial projects; and that Congress not only has the power to do something that can balance the interests of libraries, museums, and other archives with those of rights holders, it really, really ought to exercise that power. It’s not merely a matter of commercial interests pitted against each other. There are obstacles to the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Smithsonian to preserve the content of their collection for future generations. In other words, the problem of digitization is not merely doing something about Google.
I’ve suggested before that doing nothing leaves some preservation efforts to private collectors who may not respect the law or standards to hold on to content. The best example I can give is the BBC wiping early episodes of Doctor Who so it could reuse the tape. Once the Beeb realized the value, cultural and commercial, it had put out a call to locate those missing episodes. Some of the gap had been filled in via private collectors. Imagine how successful those efforts would have been if the BBC decided prosecute those collectors for copyright violations.
Another example, also from the BBC, is how Terry Gilliam claims that he heard by happenstance that the broadcaster was going to wipe the episodes of Monty Python to save tape and managed to purchase them all before that happened. The BBC had to buy back the recordings to put out the series tapes and DVDs. The story appears in an interview that was broadcast in the documentary Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut). Someone should be legally allowed to comprehensively archive in-copyright items. Congress should not wait for the courts to apply existing copyright law to situations that law did not anticipate.
A copy of the report is here (via BNA).
[Updated to clarify in the next to last paragraph that the BBC would have erased all seasons of Monty Python to resuse the tape. Sorry if there was any confusion. Losing episodes of Doctor Who and Monty Python would have been egregious.] [MG]