Wednesday, April 23, 2008

BPN1077 Amsterdam World Book Capital

From today onwards, Amsterdam will be the World Book Capital for one year. It will be celebrated with many events, with the publication of a book to start with; but with one of the largest open-air book market containing more than 1,000 stalls on 18 May, 2008. But before the official kick-off, there was the Copyright Symposium The Book in the Internet Era: Copyright and the Future for Authors, Publishers and Libraries on April 21 and 22, 2008. Of course there were international celebrities, but in the time preceding the symposium the National Library of The Netherlands put a hot potato on the table. Books and articles of the 20th century might be the missing link in the digital library of tomorrow.

The National Library has been in the forefront of digitising books, newspapers and magazines. It was one of the first national libraries instituting an e-Depot. But the National Library has increasingly problems with the strict criteria of the Dutch copyright law. Re-use of material is only possible after 70 years upon the death of the authors or after 70 years of publication if the author was employed. In order to re-use the material before the transfer of the material to the public domain consent of rights holders is needed. But these are usually not easy to trace.

In fact localising the rights holders is a tracing action of mythological proportion. Of many book authors from the thirties the heirs are known. But tracing authors of magazine articles is an enormous problem, as one edition already will have contribution of some ten authors. It costs more time and money to trace them than all digitising projects together, while no fee has been paid to the heirs yet. For this reason Google has limited the only big digitising project of 300.000 Dutch language books in the university library of Ghent to 1867. Just to be sure Google took two times 70 years for its deadline in order to exclude any risk of a copyright claim.

Of course one could say that it is no problem to go and get the physical book in the library. Yet the experience is already that if a book has not been digitised, it does not exist. If a library does not have a retrospective index, it will find out that mostly books or articles, registered in the digital index, will be looked up. Besides slowly digitised books and articles become common in the library.

The National Library of the Netherlands pleads to adopt a combination of the Anglo-saxon and Scandinavian models. In this combination extended collective licenses will be closed, but on the basis of the opt-out principle. There will be no search for rights holders in this model, while on the other hand cultural heritage institutions have insight in the financial consequences beforehand. On the other hand there remains a right to a fee and a possibility to refuse permission to reprint or digitise. A real problem in this model is the need to pay ahead for license agreements, which would create gold mines at collecting societies.

Yet this model is the best of both worlds. But this needs legislation by the Dutch and eventually the European legislator. The definitive solution will be a special internet paragraph in the Author law for non-commercial usage. Yet making laws takes time. The National Library proposes that rights organisation indemnify cultural heritage organisation for not-linked and untraceable heirs. If it appears impossible to re-insure the financial liability, the government should guarantee the liability.

Blog Posting Number: 1077

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