CLIRing Things Up

The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) has a new report out on Acquiring Copyright Permissions to Digitize and Provide Open Access to Books. Among the findings: orphan works are a problem. Locating and dealing with publishers is daunting. If a book includes materials for which the publisher had to acquire rights (say, to quote a poem) they don’t feel they have the right to include the book in an open access project. And now that “out of print” doesn’t mean what it used to mean, publishers can hang onto rights for as long as they can print on demand – so even if the copyright holder is willing, the publisher may not be. Ever.

This reminds me that during the e-book boom around 2000 I asked a representative from NetLibrary what the biggest challenge was. He said it was winning over publishers – it took far more time and effort than anything else. That boom, of course, went bust largely because everyone in the industry was trying to figure out how to make money by cutting someone else out of the picture. In an article I wrote about it I quoted a New York Times book critic who asked a key question: “What’s in it for the reader?”

I think the industry needs to ask that question again if they want to be in business.

Duelling PR

According to CNET News, Random House and Amazon are now planning to allow customers to pay per page or get electronic access to books they buy in print. What I find interesting is how much Amazon claims can be “searched inside” (one out of every two books sold) and how postive the impact on sales (8% lift for those that are searchable). You’d think that would make Google’s project all the more attractive, but worries about DRM and Google’s ultimate plans for their digital texts seem to be giving publishers (and a few authors) the willies.

One correction to the record, though: Amazon doesn’t work with copyright holders, only publishers. Authors who hold copyright were not asked if they wanted their books “searched inside.” I’ve asked a number of authors if they were consulted when their books were entered in the Search Inside program. Hardly any of them even knew their books were included, and none were asked. Presumably, publishers are submitting books to which they have publication rights, and that’s being conflated with asking the copyright holder. Whatever – only I find it disingenuous for Amazon to keep talking about honoring the rights of copyright holders when copyright holders are not given any choice (except hey – to opt out. Does that sound familiar?) Oh, and by the way – if Google’s privacy policies worry you, Amazon’s should too. A benefit of participating is letting publishers know what bits of books are searched, and you have to hand over your credit card information to search inside the book. Now, that should give librarians the willies!

I hope the Open Content Alliance isn’t lost in these competing PR releases. Though operating without deep pockets it has principles I can respect. On the other hand, it’s time we sorted out how to reinterpret “copy” in a digital age and Google’s chutzpah (and their lawyers’ fees) are putting it on the table.

My In-box Overfloweth

Amazing all the interesting stuff that can wash up in one’s in-box in a single day. The Chronicle reports that some of the first books scanned in the Google Library project are now online. Google’s blog shows some of the texts. I notice that some are missing the “find in a library” link to WorldCat that the library project is supposed to include (a link that is absent on the digital books supplied by publishers; the idea was to include it on the library-scanned books). Still no memo describing how Google plans to take over the world. We’ll just have to either take their word for it that they’re good guys – or use our imaginations. And wait to see what the courts decide.

If you want paranoia with that, here’s a scary item from the Electronic Frontier Foundation: your printer may be watching you. Remember how detectives used to match documents to the typewriter they were written on by noticing the top of the letter T was a little chipped? Well – that’s sort of the idea. Embed a secret code that can match a page to a specific printer. And how handy when industry does the advance work for you! It strikes me as a tad bizarre that we live in a country in which the idea of making a record of the unique grooves and lands in any handgun as it goes from the manufacturer to the marketplace is totally untenable. Nope. No way. Threatens our civil liberties. Fuggetaboutit. But ideas? Speech? Expression? Hey, those things are dangerous, dude! We need to be able to track back and see where they came from. The Feebs, of course, say it’s just to apprehend counterfeiters, but that’s about as comforting as being told I shouldn’t worry about the PATRIOT Act unless I’m a terrorist.

The EFF tidbit (not the rant) came from the wonderful folks at LII – which has a spiffy new look. Between their weekly update and the one from the Scout Report I usually find plenty of interesting academic sites to share with faculty or to add to our subject guides. Or just to make me think.

Now if Steven would just find a way to add a button to his Kept-Up Librarian that would automatically download all the news fit to feed directly to my brain, I would truly feel kept up. But I would definitely need a memory upgrade.

Against Regulation

The ALA has joined with the American Council on Education and other organizations in filing suit against FCC regulations that could cost college billions of dollars to make eavesdropping slightly more convenient. The plaintiffs argue that the changes are not necessary and that law enforcement needs can be served (when warrants are properly served) without these expensive changes. There’s more coverage of this story in The New York Times, the Chroncle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed.

I happened to be reading about this news at the same time an Australian friend send me an article about a speech given by Nobel Prize-winning novelist J.M. Coetzee (author of Waiting for the Barbarians among other novels) at the National Library of Australia. His reminder that terrorism as a threat was used to argue in favor of apartheid has caused some controversy as the Australian PM pushes legislation to expand police powers in the name of national security.

Seems ironic that an FBI that can’t get their own computer systems to work wants us to fine tune ours at great cost for their benefit. I guess “Kafkaesque” is a good word for it. Or is “Coetzeean” a word?

Risk or Reward in Google Print?

First, authors sued Google over their library project. Now it’s publishers’ turn, according to an article by Scott Carlson in the Chronicle – “5 Big Publishing Houses Sue Google.”

When Google first announced their library project I figured this was an interesting way to call the question: what does fair use really mean in a digital age? Google believes not only that this project would be good for the publishing industry, but that it’s within fair use. Jonathan Band agrees in an ARL report – but clearly the old concept of “copy” needs tweaking in a digital era. These will be precedent-setting cases to watch.

Academic librarians tend to frame our understanding of – and conflicts about – intellectual property around issues of scholarly communication. But as Nancy Ramsey points out in a New York Times article, “The Hidden Cost of Documentaries,” the implications for culture are far wider and more complex. We need to be aware of copyright issues beyond scholarly communication. Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture and Siva Viadhyanathan’s Anarchist in the Library are interesting approaches to the big picture.

Incidentally, Lessig’s book is free online from his site; Vaidhyanathan’s is full-text searchable through Google Print and Amazon. So far, civilization as we know it hasn’t fallen as a result. And it didn’t stop me from buying both in print.

I can’t help wondering – if lending libraries were invented today, would publishers lobby to delete the “first sale” doctrine from copyright law, arguing it enables a harmful form of organized piracy?