[Paleopsych] Toronto Star: National Web library do-able, affordable, visionary
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National Web library do-able, affordable, visionary
------ Forwarded Message
From: Michael Geist <mgeist at pobox.com>
Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2005 01:56:55 -0500
To: <dave at farber.net>
Subject: Can a country digitize everything it has ever written?
Of possible interest to IP -- my weekly Toronto Star Law Bytes column
returns with a new year's resolution -- Canada should become the
first country in the world to to create a comprehensive national
digital library. The library, which would be fully accessible online,
would contain a digitally scanned copy of every book, government
report, and legal decision ever published in Canada. The column
argues that the most significant barriers to a national digital
library do not arise from fiscal challenges but rather from two
potential copyright reforms -- an extended licensing system and an
extension on the term of copyright -- currently winding their way
through the system.
Column, posted below, is online at
National Web library do-able, affordable, visionary
In the mid-1990s, Ottawa established a bold new vision for the
Internet in Canada. The centrepiece was a commitment to establish
national Internet access from coast to coast to coast, supported by a
program that would enable the country to quickly become the first in
the world to connect every single school, no matter how small or
large, to the Internet. Not only did Canada meet its goal, but it
completed the program ahead of schedule.
As we enter the middle of this decade, the time has come for Industry
Minister David Emerson and his colleagues to articulate a new
future-oriented vision for the Canadian Internet.
While the last decade centred on access to the Internet, the
dominant issue this decade is focused on access to the content on the
Internet. To address that issue, the federal government should again
One opportunity is to greatly expand the National Library of
Canada's digital efforts by becoming the first country in the world
to create a comprehensive national digital library.
The library, which would be fully accessible online, would contain a
digitally scanned copy of every book, government report, and legal
decision ever published in Canada.
A national digital library would provide unparalleled access to
Canadian content in English and French along with aboriginal and
heritage languages such as Yiddish and Ukrainian. The library would
serve as a focal point for the Internet in Canada, providing an
invaluable resource to the education system and ensuring that access
to knowledge is available to everyone, regardless of economic status
or geographic location.
From a cultural perspective, the library would establish an
exceptional vehicle for promoting Canadian creativity to the world,
leading to greater awareness of Canadian literature, science, and
By extending the library to government documents and court
decisions, it would help meet the broader societal goal of providing
all Canadians with open access to their laws and government policies.
Moreover, since the government holds the copyright associated with
its own reports and legal decisions, it is able to grant complete,
unrestricted access to all such materials immediately alongside the
approximately 100,000 Canadian books that are already part of the
Creating virtual libraries to complement the world's great physical
libraries is already underway. Project Gutenberg, an all-volunteer
initiative, has succeeded in bringing thousands of public domain
texts to the Web.
Last summer, the British Library unveiled an ambitious plan to
digitize and freely post on the Internet thousands of historical
newspapers that are now in the public domain. That plan will bring
more than one million pages of history to the Internet, including
work from a young Charles Dickens.
Last month Google announced that it had reached agreement with
several of the world's leading research libraries, including ones at
Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, Oxford, and the New York Public Library,
to scan more than 15 million books into its search archive.
Once the Google project is completed, the general public will enjoy
complete, full-text access to thousands of books that are now part of
the public domain because the term of copyright associated with those
books has expired.
For books that remain subject to copyright, Google will still scan a
copy of the book, but will only grant the general public more modest
access to its content, providing users with smaller excerpts of the
work - a policy that is consistent with principles of fair use under
The Google project epitomizes the essence of the copyright balance.
The public will benefit from unrestricted access to works in the
public domain along with more limited access to other work, all
without the need to seek any prior permission.
Authors will still enjoy copyright protection in their work and will
frequently find that greater access leads to increased commercial
While digitally scanning more than 10 million Canadian books and
documents is a daunting task, the Google project illustrates that it
is financially feasible. Reports suggest that it will cost Google
approximately $10 to scan each book.
Assuming similar costs for a Canadian project and a five-year
timeline, the $20 million annual price tag represents a fraction of
the total governmental commitment toward Canadian culture and
In fact, the most significant barriers to a national digital library
do not arise from fiscal challenges but rather from two potential
copyright reforms currently winding their way through the system.
First, the federal government is contemplating reversing the
decade-old policy of avoiding Internet licensing by creating a new
licensing system for Internet content that would create new
restrictions to accessing online content.
By proposing a very narrow definition of what can be accessed
without compensation, the plan would effectively force millions of
Canadian students to pay for access to content that is otherwise
Despite opposition from the education community, the proposal is
marching forward, constituting a significant setback to the goal of
encouraging Internet use in Canada.
Given the Supreme Court of Canada's recent commitment to copyright
balance and robust user rights, it is clear that for most uses no
license is needed to provide schools with appropriate access to
online content such as a potential national digital library. With
this in mind, this proposal should be quickly scrapped.
Second, the Canadian Heritage Minister Liza Frulla's Copyright Policy
Branch recently announced that this year it plans to launch a public
consultation on a proposal to extend the term of copyright in Canada
from its current 50 years after the death of the author to at least
70 years after death (authors enjoy exclusive copyright in their work
from the moment of creation until 50 years after they die).
Extending the copyright term would deal a serious blow to a national
digital library because it would instantly remove thousands of works
from the public domain. Although the U.S. and European Union have
extended their copyright terms by an additional 20 years, the vast
majority of the world's population lives in countries that have not.
Those countries have recognized that an extension is unsupportable
from a policy perspective. It will not foster further creative
activity, it is not required under international intellectual
property law, and it effectively constitutes a massive transfer of
wealth from the public to the heirs of a select group of copyright
Given the economic and societal dangers associated with a copyright
term extension, even moving forward with a consultation constitutes
an embarrassing case of putting the interests of a select few ahead
of the public interest.
A new year is traditionally a time for bold, new resolutions. As
Parliamentarians return to Ottawa, they should be encouraged to seize
the opportunity to establish a national vision for the Internet that
will again propel Canada into a global leadership position.
Supported by appropriate copyright policies, a national digital
library comprised of every Canadian book ever published would provide
an exceptional resource for Canadians at home as well as
advantageously promote the export of Canadian culture abroad.
Professor Michael A. Geist
Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law
University of Ottawa Law School, Common Law Section
57 Louis Pasteur St., Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 6N5
Tel: 613-562-5800, x3319 Fax: 613-562-5124
mgeist at pobox.com http://www.michaelgeist.ca
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