As someone who has dreams of one day being a published author, I have followed the Google Vs Publishers battle over the copyright status of scanned books with interest. It has been a intense battle, and is far from over.
So the latest development out of the US with a group of libraries doing similar things has left me uneasy. Libraries and publishers and authors have always had a fragile relationship. Many Authors love libraries and many don’t. Some publishers like libraries, and again some don’t.
Libraries Have a Novel Idea: Lenders Join Forces to Let Patrons Check Out Digital Scans of Shelved Book Collections [Wall Street Journal Online] By Geoffrey A. Fowler
Libraries are expanding e-book offerings with out-of-print editions, part of a broader effort to expand borrowing privileges in the Internet Age that could challenge traditional ideas about copyright.
Starting Tuesday, a group of libraries led by the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library, are joining forces to create a one-stop website for checking out e-books, including access to more than a million scanned public domain books and a catalog of thousands of contemporary e-book titles available at many public libraries.
And in a first, participants including the Boston Public Library and the Marine Biological Laboratory will also contribute scans of a few hundred older books that are still in copyright, but no longer sold commercially. That part of the project could raise eyebrows, because copyright law is unclear in the digital books arena. Google Inc., which is working on its own book scanning efforts, has been mired in a legal brouhaha with authors and publishers over its digital books project.
To read the books, borrowers around the world can download and read them for free on computers or e-reading gadgets. Software renders the books inaccessible once the loan period ends. Two-thirds of American libraries offered e-book loans in 2009, according to a survey by the American Library Association. But those were mostly contemporary imprints from the last couple of years—say, the latest Stephen King novel.
The Internet Archive project, dubbed Openlibrary.org, goes a step further by opening up some access to the sorts of books that may have otherwise gathered dust on library shelves—mainly those published in the past 90 years, but of less popular interest.
Many libraries have built out their digital libraries by buying copies of new e-books from companies like Overdrive Inc. Openlibrary.org plans to catalog 70,000 of the books offered by Overdrive, and provide links to check them out from local libraries.
“We know that our users are starting their search for information online,” said Thomas Blake, the digital projects manager at the Boston Public Library, which is contributing some in-copyright genealogical titles to the new effort. “Instead of sitting back and waiting for the people to come back into the library, we want to meet our users where they’re living.”
It sounds all good, but I am uneasy over the scanning of in copyright material, even when out of print. Ebooks, and libraries lending them, certainly look like “The Issue” for libraries over the next few years.