French National Library Privatizes Public Domain Materials

from the deep-betrayal dept

Copyright is sometimes described as a bargain between two parties: creators and their public. In return for receiving a government-backed monopoly on making copies, creators promise to place their works in the public domain at the end of the copyright term. The problem with that narrative is that time and again, the public is cheated out of what it is due.

For example, copyright terms can be extended retrospectively, which means that material will be locked up for longer than originally promised in the "deal". Or there can be a privatization of public domain materials, using contracts, as reported here by Communia:

Last week the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) concluded two new agreements with private companies to digitize over 70.000 old books, 200.000 sound recordings and other documents belonging (either partially or as a whole) to the public domain. While these public private partnerships enable the digitization of these works they also contain 10-year exclusive agreements allowing the private companies carrying out the digitization to commercialize the digitized documents. During this period only a limited number of these works may be offered online by the BnF.
Communia points out:
The value of the public domain lies in the free dissemination of knowledge and the ability for everyone to access and create new works based on previous works. Yet, instead of taking advantage of the opportunities offered by digitization, the exclusivity of these agreements will force public bodies, such as research institutions or university libraries, to purchase digital content that belongs to the common cultural heritage.

As such, these partnerships constitute a commodification of the public domain by contractual means.
These kind of initiatives are typically justified on the grounds that there's no other way to digitize books and recordings. But that's clearly not true: money could be taken from other projects to pay for such work. It's really a question of priorities. These "public-private" partnerships come about because institutions like the Bibliothèque nationale de France have given up fighting for the public domain, despite being its guardians, and have acquiesced in its privatization.

It's a sad sign of the extent to which once-great libraries and galleries have been assimilated by the copyright industry and its culture of owning rather than sharing that they can't see why their complicity in this kind of enclosure of the knowledge commons is a deep betrayal of their origins and primary mission.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2013 @ 11:28am

    In France, It all started with a Statue...

    You may remember that the Statue of Liberty was given to the US as a gift. Now today, it's a national park, and frequently used in corporate symbolism. In fact, an insurance company uses it as it's logo.

    It used to be a work of art to appreciate and enjoy as a gift, that was given to the people of the US to take care of.

    But it was closed 5+ years, and opened up for a period of two weeks before Hurricane Sandy hit. Now it's closed again.

    There are somethings that might be haunted and cursed, and one of those things seems to be that France Statue Gift. Besides being the corporate logo of an insurance company whose company policy is responsbility and golf games requiring a fleet of 5 jet aircraft (as reported in the Boston Globe Newspaper- See the recent article titled "Your Premiums, His Premium Office" I believe France has the right to be a little concerned about how gifts and items in the public domain are taken care of.

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