Clark, A. & Chawner, B. (2014). Enclosing the public domain: The restriction of public domain books in a digital environment. First Monday, 19(6). doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v19i6.4975
"Research shows that open repositories allow works to have far greater societal impact than when access is restricted (Cullen and Chawner, 2008)." Access to public domain books is being threatened by digitizers. This article does a great job of making the complex issues clear, and offering solutions. The writers who are from New Zealand examine this problem by choosing to track 100 public domain books from New Zealand before 1890. The questions they ask and answer are: How much are public domain books being restricted in terms of access and use? What are the reasons for these restrictions and are these reasons okay? What’s a fair way to digitize and host public domain books to balance needs of digitizer and the public? Starting this study as a microcosm within New Zealand led them to the macrocosm of varying copyright law and contractual law internationally.
Basically, these digitizers create contracts for internet use, and then claim these contracts take precedent over copyrights. Those of the public who are concerned believe the books still belong in the public domain on the internet also. And, different countries have different definitions of copyrights and contracts.
Interestingly, digitizers HathiTrust and Google both of the United States apply the most restrictions to access public domain books. They use 'Technological Protection Measures' (TPM) to block access to materials that may be considered public domain. These measures include blocking the cut and paste function, using the ‘snippet view,’ and blocking full pdf download access. The writers did contest blocked public domain books for both large companies. As of the published article in 2014, Google did not resolve the dispute, while HathiTrust immediately released all 11 of the contested books back into the public domain. The problem is that there are many more books blocked by these companies. Further, other companies will access and download pdfs, and then charge unreasonable access prices for these public domain books: Amazon is one company doing such practice. Know that other digitizers as mentioned by this article, such as Early New Zealand Books, New Zealand Electronic Books, Project Gutenberg, and The Internet Archive, usually do provide full access for most public domain books. Thus, it’s always worth searching for the item you’re looking for to see if it’s available for free.
Why are these digitizers restricting access? Since copyright law varies globally, Google Books and HathiTrust responded that they are wary of legal battles, as they are missing bibliographic information for many books. So, they apply more restrictions, specifically increase copyrights beyond terms. They also increase copyrights as they figure they have done the work to digitize, so they are entitled to reap profits from this work. However, the research is clear that " the social costs of copyright extension do not outweigh the benefits. Legislators should refrain from increasing the period of copyright protection..."
Here are suggestions by the writers to solve issues:
- Attach bibliographic metadata to each public domain book that takes a minute to find and is found 66% of the time. This time is in comparison to the time needed to digitize a book. In 2006 digitizing 500 pages took 30 minutes plus other processing time.
- Use statistical analyses to develop copyright restrictions for books with missing biographical data.
- Create standardized processes to determine copyright, and create an easy way for users to contest digitizers.
- If standards are agreed to, create a ‘safe harbor’ for digitizers, as problems emerge regarding copyright issues.
While this was a tough article to get through, I wanted to know how and why digitizers are charging for items that are supposed to be free. And, what are the implications of such practice? We know the ideal internet helps to make information accessible, not restrict those who can have access and those who cannot.