Let’s talk about arguably the biggest copyright question that libraries throughout the world are asking: “Can I digitise this?”
There are so many reasons why libraries are digitising their collections that it is hard to give even an overview. Here are a few reasons why libraries might digitise materials:
- It is a means of preservation.
- It is how patrons often prefer their materials.
- It is the best way for a single library to serve a large area.
- It allows libraries to share their collections beyond the borders of the areas they serve.
- It allows libraries to have large collections when they have small physical spaces.
- It allows libraries to free up their physical spaces for uses other than housing stacks.
Copyright is something that libraries need to consider when digitising materials.
Copyright is actually a bundle of rights that belongs to the creators of materials. As soon as copyright kicks in for a work, the creator has the exclusive right to decide when that work can be copied and shared. Since digitisation involves making a copy and sometimes sharing it, we have to consider copyright before we do it. We either need an exception in our country’s copyright laws for that kind of use, or we need permission from the copyright owner.
Some countries have more latitude for digitising works than others.
In the United States, Google Books and HathiTrust have a huge book digitisation program that was the subject of a high-profile copyright infringement lawsuit. A group of authors and copyright holders argued that Google Books and HathiTrust had no right to make digital copies of their books.
Google Books and HathiTrust ultimately won because the judge extended the concept of fair use (an exception to copyright in American copyright law) to apply to the digitisation of books in this case. The digitised books can’t be made publicly available, but they can be digitised for limited uses.
In many other countries, however, the exceptions to copyright for digitisation are very narrow, and many conditions must be met before a decision to digitise can be made.
Here are some questions to think about and to talk to your partner about:
- Does your library regularly digitise materials? Why?
- What kinds of factors do you consider when deciding to digitise? Is copyright one of them?
- If copyright is one of the factors, how do you deal with it? Is a copyright a serious roadblock or just a small obstacle?