From: Norm Jacknis (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Thu Jun 20 2002 - 22:21:42 EDT
One of the major legal wars that will dominate the Internet in the next
decade(s?) is the handling of "intellectual property" and the role of
libraries and other traditional fair users of copyrighted materials. This
is an interesting article about one aspect of this battle.
Battle Over Access to Online Books
June 17, 2002
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
When Internet song-sharing services created digital
jukeboxes of free music, book publishers raced to bolt the
door to their own archives of copyrighted works.
Many librarians, on the other hand, thought the idea was
Now, new technologies are igniting a similar battle closer
to home. Librarians have seized on the potential of digital
technology and offered users free online access to the
contents of books from their homes, and they are squaring
off with publishers who fear that free remote access costs
them book sales.
And as they haggle over contracts to obtain the rights to
books, librarians' trade groups have begun lobbying against
publishers on Capitol Hill, as well, fighting to block
legislation that would strengthen copy protection and make
it illegal to duplicate protected digital files. They have
already been fighting publishers in a suit asking the
Supreme Court to shorten the duration of copyright.
Libraries are one of the few places where there is real
demand for electronic books, which so far have been a dud
with consumers. The Web sites of more than 7,300 libraries,
including the New York Public Library, provide patrons
24-hour remote access to the texts of a few hundred to
several thousand electronic books, occasionally even in
languages like Chinese and Russian.
"What we are really excited about is the potential of the
technology to allow greater dissemination of information
because getting information into the hands of everybody we
can is what we are all about," said Miriam Nisbet,
legislative council for the American Library Association.
"What we are concerned about is the dark side, which is
trying to lock everything up."
But locking everything up is exactly the response from the
largest publishers. Although hundreds of smaller publishers
with fewer popular titles have allowed libraries to "lend"
their books electronically, the major trade publishers are
refusing to cooperate.
"Lending over their Web sites - I think that is a problem,"
said Laurence Kirshbaum, chairman of the books division of
AOL Time Warner. "There is an inherent danger that would
worry me - you are opening yourself up to being copied
wildly without any control."
The tensions among libraries and publishers are coming to
the fore as several companies that originally aimed to help
publishers sell digital books to consumers have instead set
their sights on serving libraries, which are the only
paying customers. Some of their efforts are ruffling
One controversial case involves the renegade publisher
RosettaBooks. At the American Library Association meeting
over the weekend, the company began selling libraries a
chance to provide patrons unlimited, simultaneous access to
a collection of 100 20th-century classics by authors like
Kurt Vonnegut and William Styron for an annual fee of $200
to $1,000. RosettaBooks acquired the rights to publish
digital editions of the books directly from the authors,
arguing that the original contracts covered only printed
books. But the original publishers of the books argue that
RosettaBooks is violating their exclusive licenses to
publish them for the duration of the copyright. Random
House is suing RosettaBooks on those grounds, with support
from the publishers' trade group.
The offer by RosettaBooks is forcing librarians to take
sides, but Frederick W. Weingarten, director for
information technology policy at the American Library
Association, said, "I think libraries will pick that up and
run with it." He added, "They are not going to be looking
at whether or not they are offending publishers." A Random
House spokesman declined to comment.
Others are taking smaller steps. NetLibrary, the biggest
middleman selling electronic editions to libraries, has
tried to mollify publishers by restricting access to each
digital book to one patron at a time - just like printed
volumes - even though the technology would allow everyone
in town to read an electronic book from home at once. But
in January a consortium of libraries acquired netLibrary,
and this year the company has begun experimenting with
allowing libraries the right to offer more than one user
access to the same books at once. In the experiments, a
library pays an annual fee to circulate a collection of
digital books for a year and netLibrary passes a portion of
the fees to publishers.
"Libraries very much want to move away from the one book,
one user model," said Marge Gammon, senior director for
marketing and publisher relations at netLibrary, "We get
asked a lot, `When is that going to change?' "
Others originally aiming to sell electronic books for
publishers have switched their focus to helping libraries.
One company, Ebrary, started out seeking to provide a
digital showcase to let consumers browse and buy books.
This year, it shifted its emphasis to selling libraries a
database of digital books they can offer their patrons.
Fifty libraries have signed up so far. The Web sites of
many libraries already direct users to sites like Project
Gutenberg and the University of Virginia's Electronic Text
Center, which provide free access to digital books no
longer under copyright. More than 30,000 people a day visit
the Electronic Text Center, where the texts of 10,000 books
are available to the public.
Others see digital books as a way to provide immigrants
access to hard-to-obtain foreign language texts. The Queens
Public Library in New York, for example, provides unlimited
simultaneous access to 3,500 Chinese texts. More than 400
Chinese speakers used the service last month, and many
apparently read entire texts, said Gary E. Strong, the
So far, RosettaBooks is one of the only English language
publishers to offer similar access to their books, even
under an annual lease. "That is one of the big complaints,"
said Kay Cassell, associate director for programs and
services at the New York Public Library. "It would be great
for libraries if we could have more than one person access
an electronic book at a time. But I think the publishers
are a little scared."
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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