Google has done a great job in digitizing millions of books, and, actually, they’ve helped by showing us what’s possible. But there are other materials: there are images, there are manuscripts, there are audio/visual materials—it’s not all books. Who knows, maybe Google will be a part of this, too. There’s been an enormous amount of work that’s been done already. Many of the libraries involved in this effort have worked closely with Google as well. I think that public/private partnerships are going to be a part of this in lots of ways. There’s open content that’s totally open and totally free, and then there’s content that might appear free to the user, but that has something happening on the back end—someone is paying for it somehow—which is how libraries have been paying for content already anyway.
The Google settlement has been held up for a very long time now, and who knows what’s going to happen to it. It’s a great pity that we don’t have an answer to the orphan works problem. Part of what DPLA will do is to try to help create legislative solutions to this problem. I mean, Google created a private contract around a problem that really should be legislated. And so no one has given up on the desire to create a true legislative solution for everyone, for the orphan works problem.
What would need to happen, in terms of legislation, before DPLA could become a reality?
Well, I’m not a lawyer; my colleagues could wax much more eloquently on this. But generally speaking, certainly we need to be able to provide access to things that are truly orphaned. We need to know that we’re not going to be sued because we provide access to something that has no locatable rights holder. We also need a way to tease out the different layers of content: there’s Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter, and then there’s the book that was written by an academic five years ago, that they would be delighted to have someone read. You know, it’s out of print, it’s not going to make any more revenue, really. So can we not find a way to change the one-size-fits-all nature of copyright, so that the scholarly publishing community can do what it was supposed to do, which was to spread knowledge and increase scholarship? It was not supposed to just publish books that would be locked up for the next lifetime plus seventy years, that no one would be able to locate in an onine environment, much less read or analyze?
But then what would this mean for the authors of content that’s still current, still under copyright, and would still be making money on its own? Would those types of content not be included in the DPLA?
Many are already being included through your public library, through a company called “Overdrive,” that provides access to in-copyright digital books: you download them and then they disappear in two weeks, for instance. But no one—I can say that with one hundred thousand percent certainty—no one at this meeting was ever advocating for rights-holders to be in any way slighted or disadvantaged. Everyone supports copyright and its purpose, in creating an environment where innovation can thrive, where creators are rewarded for their creation. Everyone is clear that that should be a vital part of the DPLA.
On the user end, would access to the DPLA be free to everyone? Or is that still up for discussion?
That’s the ideal, I think. But I don’t know how things will look, because you may have different tiers of content. For example, I, as a citizen of Cambridge and of Massachusetts I have access to the overdrive database through my Boston library card, and there are things I have access to because of where I live. Then add to that that I have access to other materials because I am part of an academic community. So I could see the DPLA having a similar tiered access mechanism.