The variations in copyright law and the impact of differential
legal and corporate interpretations of copyright on digital archives

L. Denault, 8 June 2009

 

We are currently engaged in a study of the variations in copyright law and the impact of differential legal and corporate interpretations of copyright on digital archives.

Our inquiry begins with an observation: that the same scan of the same book is sometimes inconsistently accessible from different countries. In the case of our example, below, we were allowed to see full-view from the US, but only ‘snippet view’ from the UK when using Google Book Search. We believe that this may be a symptom of Tim O’Reilly’s observation about orphan works, reflecting the conservatism of digital libraries in making such content available outside of the country of origin, or the country in which the image was scanned. (See Tim O’Reilly’s ‘guest blogger’, Professor Pamela Samuelson of UC Berkeley, on this issue: http://radar.oreilly.com/2009/04/legally-speaking-the-dead-soul.html). Orphan works, in addition to the Google Book Search settlement context, are currently the subject of legal reform efforts in the US: http://www.copyright.gov/orphan/

One example of differential access: We accessed Hobson-Jobson, an Anglo-English glossary published by J. Murray in London in 1903, and edited by Henry Yule, Arthur Coke Burnell, and William Crooke, using a computer based in Cambridge in the UK, and then from computers based in Baltimore, Maryland, in the US; from Cambridge, Ontario in Canada; and from Beijing in China (Google Book Search id: PQYYAAAAMAAJ). From Canada, China and the UK, the text was fully searchable but only available in ‘snippet view’ (see first screen capture). From the US, the text was not only available in full, but downloadable as a PDF document (second screen capture). Our sample book, originally published in the UK but scanned as a part of the University of Michigan’s library collection, also exists in the Google Book Search records twice, once per unique scan of its pages, the first in September 2006 and the second in April 2008. However, both scans have the same access restrictions from outside the US.

What effect will this kind of inconsistency have on research in different countries? If the phenomenal power of tools like Google Book Search is only available from certain locations, then the implications for historians outside of the US is significant.

LD