by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
archives, copyright, digital, libraries, preservation

Should Organizations Get To Ignore Copyright For The Sake Of Preservation?

from the glossing-over-a-bigger-problem? dept

Copyright was clearly designed for a different age: when not everyone was a "publisher." And while we've spent years pointing out many of the different problems that has caused, here's another one: how is a library or some other institution charged with "archiving" written works for posterity supposed to deal with copyright laws that can often make such archival activities against the law? Well, the Library of Congress and a bunch of other organizations have a suggestion: let them all ignore copyright law for the sake of archiving. Basically, the report recommends that certain organizations be designated as "preservation institutions," which are then more or less allowed to ignore copyright law and copy-at-will for the sake of preservation. Of course, this is clearly going to lead to many questions, including just who would get designated as such. Many people can probably agree on public libraries and such -- but what about Google? After all, Google is already one of the largest players in "preserving" what's online and also, with its book scanning project, what's in books. Yet it's a private, for-profit company. Should it qualify? I would argue that it makes sense to allow it, given how beneficial the archival activities of Google have already been. Even if it is for profit, the public benefit has been tremendous as well. But then what's to stop any other company from arguing that it to deserves an exemption for preservation purposes? Wouldn't a better solution be to start rethinking copyright law altogether, since what has become clear from this is that copyright doesn't quite fit today's world any more?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Brian Rowe, Jul 18th, 2008 @ 5:51pm

    Can our Culture be Saved? The Future of Digital Archiving

    Copyright was designed to get works to the public, if works leave the public sphere and are kept from the public due to copyright, then copyright is failing. I agree that copyright needs an overhaul, an archival rights is a first step in the right direction. Diane Zimmermann of NYU and Steve Davis of Corbis debated the issue of archiving last year at Seattle University Law. I recommend Zimmerman's paper for people who want to read more about the topic; Can our Culture be Saved? The Future of Digital Archiving

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2008 @ 7:28pm

    It's interesting how, when faced with an obvious problem concerning current copyright laws, rather than rethink copyright as a whole, they just whack on some other bits and pieces to the laws.

    Seriously, since when has "We'll let these people ignore the law" been an acceptable answer when the law causes problems? Surely the better solution is to tackle the law itself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Dr. Klahn, Jul 18th, 2008 @ 8:34pm

    Good idea. Won't happen.

    It's a nice idea, but lobbyists will kill it long before it even gets to committee.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    buckykat, Jul 18th, 2008 @ 9:06pm

    ooo, i wanna be a preservation organization.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Laughingdragon (profile), Jul 19th, 2008 @ 3:58am

    The Library of Congress should be entirely exempt....

    The Library of Congress should be entirely exempt from copyright restrictions. Governments, since antiquity, have designated libraries to collect all available publications.
    One might argue that the Library of Congress should have a mandate to create and manage an archive of materials which should be proof against most forms of destruction.
    As for other collections...collections are made for use. Use requires payment of copyright fees. No excuses.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2008 @ 8:03am

    I am preserving as much music as I possibly can. Please designate me as a preservation organization.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Jim, Jul 19th, 2008 @ 9:56am


    There is precedent for ignoring laws. Some people can break traffic laws in certain situations (cops, ambulances). Some people can handle Schedule 1 substances (doctors, pharmacists, researchers). Trash men are allowed to ride on trucks by hanging on to them.

    There are many laws which can be disregarded by some.

    I happen to agree that this particular exception is silly, but your argument doesn't really hold water.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Jim, Jul 19th, 2008 @ 10:31am

    Re: The Library of Congress should be entirely exempt....

    I'm going to ignore the fact that you don't appear to understand Copyright at all. Instead - you have sparked an interesting point.

    If the LoC has an archive of every publication ever copyrighted in the US... should all Americans have access to that archive? I think we can all agree that within reason, yes, all Americans can, should, and do have access. Now, I happen to live less than 3 miles from the LoC and I get to go there all the time. Most Americans don't have that luxury - but they pay just as much as I do for the Library to operate. That hardly seems fair.

    A digital archive a great equalizer though. With a digital archive, someone in the middle of nowhere in Alaska has just as much access as I do now. I think we can all agree that this is fair and good. So, should the LoC make their digital archive available to the public for free (like a normal library)? Again, I think we can all agree that the LoC can and should do this.

    Now, if Google can do the same exact thing (better) without costing American tax payers half a BILLION dollars a year. How is that a bad thing? Who loses?

    Now, consider the fact that the LoC does not do a good job of digitally archiving and making things available to the public. Even things that are no longer under copyright are not provided by the LoC to the average American with a computer. More than $500 Million per year, and this is not one of their concerns.

    Proof? Try to find the text of a not-copyrighted (say... anything by Mark Twain) book on the LoC's website. Now, try to do the same thing on Project Gutenberg's site. A volunteer agency is doing a better job of serving the average American without costing the tax payers a dime. Do you really think it is best to put a task like "complete digital archiving" into the hands of the government when companies can do it better and cheaper? Sounds like you'd be a good fit for the US Congress.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Benjie, Jul 19th, 2008 @ 12:19pm


    I'm all for a library to be able to archive any information in any format. The main problem is with digital 'copies'. It wouldn't be fair to just make unlimited copies and hand them out to patrens of the library.

    Lets say a new movie comes out. The library aquires it like a year after release, as to not unfairly compete with it. Then makes a digital back-up of said movie. They should then have some way of limiting how many copies are checked out at a time. Ma'b in the future, a DRM version can be downloaded per registered local resident, but only 2 copies can be checked out at a time... or something like that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Bubba Nicholson (profile), Jul 19th, 2008 @ 11:50pm

    Re: Re: The Library of Congress should be entirely exempt....

    Unfortunately, for some types of information, copyright is devastatingly destructive. Scientific and medical information is not maintained online for the enlightenment of mankind, it is copyrighted for the exclusive use of rich physicians seeking the latest nostrums for hypochondria. Copyrighting cuts up the scientific literature into little bits and makes it unsearchable and therefore unusable to scientists studying in the field. If modern medical research wasn't considered private property and modern medicine wasn't maintained as secret lore, we would have had cures for most diseases decades ago. After all, the producers of medical research are paid nothing for it by medical journal publishers. Remuneration is expected to proceed from the laurel of being published, a return no smaller research institution can anticipate.
    The entire up to date medical literature should be maintained by government and disseminated free to anyone having published themselves. Engineering may be private enterprise, but science most assuredly is NOT.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Gary, Jul 20th, 2008 @ 7:43am

    Purpose of copyright

    The purpose of copyright from the US Constitution:

    "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;"

    While this applies only to the US, its purpose is clear: to promote the progress of science and useful arts. It is interesting what copyright is not for:

    1. To secure an eternal stream of revenue for an "author" for himself and his heirs.
    2. To prop up obsolete business models (I'm looking at you RIAA/MPAA)
    3. To enforce business models that stifle competition (Here's looking at you, DCMA)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Tanntyn, Jul 20th, 2008 @ 8:12am

    I don't know. Call me strange, but I believe that the law should apply to all equally and with out bias. I believe they "Pay" for the items in their shelves just like you and I do. The difference is that they allow you and I to borrow the items in their collection, with the understanding that you return it in an agreed time frame. So how are they different from you and I?
    If they want special considerations then they should take a look at the all the restricting laws that apply and redo them, not tack on some addendum.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Laughingdragon (profile), Jul 20th, 2008 @ 12:32pm

    Purpose of the Library of Congress and Medical copyright

    The Library of Congress isn't a "public" library. It's a library maintained for government purposes. The purpose of having the Library of Congress maintain an archive is to collect the copyright materials so that they can be studied by agents of the government and also so that the materials will be available when the copyright runs out. Lots of material is lost nowadays.

    As to medical copyright. One reason there has been so much progress in medicine throughout the world is that Medline existed (the indexing and cataloging service of the National Health Service of the U.S. ). Fifteen years ago, I worked at Sandia National Labs in Livermore, as the technical librarian. Medline searches were cheap and you could see how the ability to access the database contributed to progress in medicine. At that time, engineering databases, even those run by professional organizations, were relatively expensive. I used to think how much more progress we'd be seeing if the engineering databases were as cheap as Medline was. Engineering indexes are much more accessible nowadays.

    As to monopolistic or expensive journal collections... There was a time for expensive collections. I remember a journal that cost $15K per year. Only a few academic libraries subscribed. Less than twenty. But an interested person could get a copy of one of it's articles. They could write (or call) the author. They could go to the library. Or they could pay someone to go into the library (through a service) and have the article copied for some small sum. The important thing was to have the ability to find the article and the second most important was to be able to determine whether or not the article would be useful. The inclusion of abstracts in the indexed databases helped. As abstracts in databases became common, the authors learned to ensure that the abstract contained their study conclusions. And they learned to include enough information for a reader to determine whether or not a copy of the article was actually needed.

    There isn't any conspiracy in medicine to monopolize the information which is published in journals. Medical progress moves slowly because the subject is incredibly complicated. And, somewhat, because there are governmental restrictions in research which discourage many people from experimenting or working in the field. However, the "public" does need protecting. Even well considered experiments can harm people. Consider the disasters in artificial blood, Vioxx, partially hydrogenated unsaturated fats, HeLa cell based cancer research.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Proud Alien, Jul 20th, 2008 @ 1:53pm

    Re: Can our Culture be Saved? The Future of Digital Archiving

    The question you try to find an answer should be "Is our culture worth saving?".

    Build a better culture first!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Scott, Jul 20th, 2008 @ 11:26pm

    Re: Re: The Library of Congress should be entirely exempt....

    Library of Congress's mandate is not to share everything digitally, it is to preserve documents. Period. Allowing the public access to those documents is secondary, and limited.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Archiver, Jul 21st, 2008 @ 2:38am

    Why is it always Google in the news?

    Much more so than Google, the Internet Archive ( - of which the Wayback Machine is a small part) has faced such issues right from the beginning.

    On an unrelated note, I fail to understand why Google is hyped so much and features so prominently when any such issue crops up? Given that it has had a huge impact on how we search for information, but there's a fine line between fawning and outright advertisement that many journalists (on or offline) seem to regularly cross.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Professor, Jul 21st, 2008 @ 5:38am

    Re: Can our Culture be Saved? The Future of Digital Archiving

    Never heard of

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 21st, 2008 @ 5:40am

    Re: Re: Can our Culture be Saved? The Future of Digital Archiving

    This is what it should be:

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Stating the Obvious, Jul 21st, 2008 @ 6:48am

    I believe we need to rethink every law that has been passed by the hirer powers of the lowly citizens. The reason why I say lowly citizens is because our government does not take heed to the citizens anymore obviously, or gas prices would be lowered (by releasing our reservoirs) federal taxes would be lowered (cutting some white collar salaries in half or passing a law that would do away with taxes but it would increase sales tax and all of those who make over 250k a year would pay for those who do not.) and we wouldn’t be waging war based on the actions of a few. The laws that have been passed have had something to do with our recession and I believe that in order to find a remedy for our situation immediate extreme actions need to be taken with our laws. Accomplishing this would be a small trivial step in the correct direction.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.