Libraries of tomorrow . . . today

Imagine having instant access to 15 million books! That’s the plan once Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo scan entire libraries of books, compile and organize them, and make them available through their Web sites.

The widest possible dissemination of knowledge is always a good thing, right? Or is it?

The New York Times says: “Although Google is making public-domain books readily available to individuals who wish to download them, [Brewster Kahle, founder and director of the Internet Archive,] and others worry about the possible implications of having one company store and distribute so much public-domain content.

“‘Scanning the great libraries is a wonderful idea, but if only one corporation controls access to this digital collection, we’ll have handed too much control to a private entity,’ Mr. Kahle said.

“The Open Content Alliance, he said, ‘is fundamentally different, coming from a community project to build joint collections that can be used by everyone in different ways.’

“Mr. Kahle’s group focuses on out-of-copyright books, mostly those published in 1922 or earlier. Google scans copyrighted works as well, but it does not allow users to read the full text of those books online, and it allows publishers to opt out of the program.”

This is an issue of major importance to authors (royalties, distribution); domestic and foreign researchers (access, security); public and private libraries (costs, collections); publishers (copyright, piracy). My guess is that a lot of lawyers have a lot of work ahead of them. JK

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Watch the short movie at Open Content Alliance to see how books can be accessed through internet storage systems. The film also describes the process for creating a “ten-minute book,” that is, a bound book printed on-site at a library from down-loaded files.

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