Copyright


Today’s New York Times has a very interesting article, entitled “History, Digitized (and Abridged)” about pretty much what the title suggests. Casual searchers, novice, and sometimes even advanced, researchers, are increasingly turning to online-only sources for their information.

 However, though the article does touch on issues of funding (there isn’t a lot of it) and copyright (good luck digitizing anything that’s not in the public domain), it does skim over (or omit altogether) several issues that I believe are important:

  •  Digitization only preserves non-digital works indirectly, and there is currently no viable method for digitally preserving either non-digital or born-digital objects.

If you happen to have an especially fragile “cultural heritage object,” making a digital copy of that object is not a viable preservation method at this time. There are many organizations in the information profession that are working to make this a reality (especially the preservation of born-digital objects), but it’s not a reality now, and it’s troubling that it’s mentioned several times in the article as if it were a currently feasible option.

  • Google’s motivation to digitize “the world’s knowledge” is far from clear.

Google’s great for a lot of things, don’t get me wrong. I have a Gmail account, I use Google’s aggregator for my RSS feeds, etc. etc. However, the idea of a private enterprise wooing non-profit institutions into mass digitizations of their collections, with the condition that no other search engine can index the results, makes me a bit uneasy, and I’m not the only one. Brewster Kahle of the non-profit Internet Archive and the related Open Content Alliance, which is currently undertaking an open-content project similar to Google’s, feels the same way. (Shocking that a potential “rival” would disagree with Google’s motivations, I know. :))

  • Google is currently being sued for copyright infringement by the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild.

I’m not sure how, despite constant mentions of both the Google Book Search Project and the hurdles copyright creates for anyone undertaking a project like this, the author failed to mention the copyright infringement lawsuits that Google’s currently in the middle of. Seems like a fairly egregious oversight to me.

Now that I’m done kvetching about the important points that I think the article missed, I want to make myself clear:

 I am not saying that I think libraries should clutch their print-based resources to their bosoms for dear life and run screaming from “teh intarweb.” Far from it. Also, despite my misgivings about Google’s motivations, they, unlike most libraries, have the deep pockets to withstand lawsuits that, with the current copyright laws, were practically inevitable.

 This brings me to my last point: the chronic under-funding of cultural heritage institutions. I’m a bit out of steam by now, so I don’t have a lot of my own thoughts to add…other than to say that it’s a bit depressing since I’ll be out on the job market in a few months and have already seen multiple archival jobs that require a graduate degree and pay less than what I know I could make in a clerical job that requires no post-secondary degree. Disheartening, to say the least.

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As I hope to someday work in archives and special collections, and these collections are increasingly either born-digital, electronically available, or both, the issue of Digital Rights Management has been looming larger and larger on my personal horizon for awhile now. To be perfectly honest, though, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around both the definition and the potential consequences of DRM….this isn’t an issue that, to my knowledge, has been discussed at my library school, and so a lot of my information has been sort of informally gleaned from a combination of web trawling and the sites whose RSS feeds I subscribe to, a situation I’m trying to remedy.

This is why I was so pleased when I noticed that one of the sites in my aggregator, Boing Boing, a self-described “directory of wonderful things” mentioned that a professor at USC is teaching a class on Digital Rights Management, titled Pwned: Is everyone on this campus a copyright criminal?”. Thankfully, the article also links to the draft syllabus for the class, which looks to contain a lot of interesting reading material. The teacher has obviously taken a decidedly negative stance on DRM, so I’m doubting I’ll find any attempts at a “fair and balanced” representation of information regarding DRM.

However, unlike other disseminators of “fair and balanced” information, he’s at least owning up to his biases, so he’s all right in my book.

I’m contemplating the purchase of a digital camera…or, more accurately, I’m adding a digital camera to my Christmas wish list, as I’m currently skint.

In any case, I was very happy to find this very helpful article today, which provides both a broad sketch of photographers’ rights to take and publish photographs, as well as some links to other websites for further clarification.

Here’s hoping that knowing my rights will prevent any potential future frog-marching out of public places, having my camera taken away, or being set upon by angry librarians who only want to be photographed on a certain side.