Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, July 14, 2008

On the British Library's digitization program

Tracey Caldwell, Scan and Deliver, Information World Review, July 11, 2008. (Thanks to Charles Bailey.)
... The British Library has digitisation projects going on all fronts ... Three of its projects are funded by JISC, which is supporting 16 digitisation schemes in the UK to the tune of £10m. ...

Digitisation projects have to take many factors into account. ... But the biggest project challenge of all proved to be copyright clearance.

... Ben White, copyright compliance and publisher licensing manager at the British Library, says: “If you are going to go up to 1900, as we are, you have to acknowledge that some of that would be in copyright. In the EU the law is that for books, maps and pictures copyright is life plus 70 years, so if you do the maths you know that some of it is going to be in copyright.” For example, if an author of a book published in 1900 lived until 1938, the work would still be in copyright.

White adds: “To digitise historical out-of-print books, we have to go back to the 1860s. Google is blocking access from the EU to anything post-1865 ...”

In the US, copyright law is clearer: copyright has expired on all works published before 1923, paving the way for mass digitisation. ...

If it is informed of a rights holder, the British Library removes digitised materials pending permissions being sought and granted. It is lobbying for legal protection for its stance for all public bodies. ...

The process of copyright clearance during the British Library's digitisation of soft targets - works that are mostly out of copyright - is certainly serving to underline the need for secure frameworks within which public and academic institutions can go forward with digitisation initiatives that might include more recent works. Guidance about the exceptions and grey areas is being put together but copyright clearance looks set to be a long hard road for some time to come.