Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A loss, but not a loss

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has declined to hear a case from a nonprofit digital library and a film preservation group who sought to make archives of out-of-print books and old films available online. (via The Chronicle of Higher Education, subscription required)

In all truth, while I favor copyright law reform in favor of streamlining the entrance of older and out-of-print materials into the public domain, I'm not sure that this suit would have accomplished that, and so I'm not upset that the case isn't being heard. My non-expert, non-legal reading of the Chronicle's summary of the Ninth Circuit's decision is that these two groups were not seeking to change copyright law or ask that these materials be placed in the public domain. They were merely asking the court to deem their activities "fair use" exceptions to the law.

The money quote:

"The idea that out-of-print materials are risky to have in libraries of the future is a corruption of the idea of copyright and the traditions of libraries."
—Brewster Kahle, director and co-founder of the Internet Archive

I agree with Mr. Kahle in principle. However, making a book or film available for individual public viewing in a library is different than making it available for download on the internet. No amorphous appeal to an undefined "library of the future" changes that.

I believe in the potential of the internet as a universal library, and I object to the virtual annihilation of commercially non-viable out-of-print books and films under current copyright law. That, however, is exactly why we need to update our copyright laws instead of carving out a few, solitary, problematic exceptions.

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