When there’s not a lot of good news around, it was uplifting to check Twitter late last night after a full day and find out that a federal judge has upheld fair use in an important case. Judge Harold Baer denied the Authors Guild et al’s motion for summary judgment (making quite a hash of their arguments in the process) but affirmed that what the Hathi Trust is doing is legal for three main reasons:
Scanning books in order to create a giant index of them, without providing actual access to the works, is transformative.
Copying for the purposes of preservation may not be transformative, but may well be a fair use.
Making works available to the visually impaired is a fair use and one the judge finds particularly unarguable.
The collection, located at www.influenzaarchive.org, contains more than 16,000 digitized documents—correspondence, minutes of organization and group meetings, reports from agencies and charities, newspaper accounts, military records, diaries, photographs, and more—along with interpretive materials contributed by scholars of history and public health.
I will confess a definite weakness for this sort of thing… and this site looks awesome. :)
I’m not talking here about just things like the cost of electricity, which should be enough on its own to disabuse idealists of their vacuous notions of what makes the world go around. I analyzed this at length in another post earlier this year. Even beyond just their power requirements, digital goods have particular traits that make them difficult to store effectively, challenging to distribute well, and much more effective when handled by paid professionals.
The problem of the 5.25-inch floppy disk is an example of the challenges posed by digital content. Unlike a physical photograph or negative, you can’t just stick a digital file in a box and forget about it for 50 years. Hardware and software obsolescence, the natural degradation of the file over time (called bit rot), and the inability to find poorly described files, all contribute to making the preservation of digital information a somewhat daunting challenge.
In September 2011, the White House launched an online petition web site, We the People, where anyone can post an idea asking the Obama administration to take action on a range of issues, get signatures, and get a response from their government.
It’s an experiment in democracy, which is generating new ideas and improving on old ideas every day. One of those rising ideas is “Yes We Scan.”
Yes We Scan is an effort by the Center for American Process and Publicresource.org to promote digitization of all government information in an effort to make it more accessible to the world.
In the course of digitizing for ten years, we’ve had two requests to take down material, both of which we’ve accommodated. We’ve had many, many, many more requests from authors to open their material to full text.
But most Archives staff see cooperation with Wikipedia as a chance to improve the site’s accuracy and to get information out to people where they’re already looking for it, McDevitt-Parks said.
"If we ever felt like we were in competition with Wikipedia, we lost that battle a long time ago," he said, noting that a Google search on the Declaration of Independence brings up the Wikipedia entry first, far above the National Archives’ article.
This project will digitise a huge range of printed books, pamphlets and periodicals dated 1700 to 1870, the period that saw the French and Industrial Revolutions, The Battle of Trafalgar and the Crimean War, the invention of rail travel and of the telegraph, the beginning of UK income tax, and the end of slavery. It will include material in a variety of major European languages, and will focus on books that are not yet freely available in digital form online.
I especially appreciate that the texts will also be hosted and stored by the British Library, so we don’t have to rely solely on Google for access.
I find it frustrating that to download a PDF of something, you have to belong to a ‘partner institution’ (i.e. university). The publication I was after was a gov’t pub, so copyright wasn’t even in play.
I’m fascinated by the measures they’re taking, and I like the comparison of this project to a seed vault. It’s actually a rather apt comparison, when you think about it.
A reason to preserve the physical book that has been digitized is that it is the authentic and original version that can be used as a reference in the future. If there is ever a controversy about the digital version, the original can be examined. A seed bank such as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is seen as an authoritative and safe version of crops we are growing. Saving physical copies of digitized books might at least be seen in a similar light as an authoritative and safe copy that may be called upon in the future.