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tions have become so broad as
to hamper the very creativity
they were supposed to encour-
age. "Innovation is often being
restricted today for legal rea-
sons, not technological ones,"
says David K. Levine, an economist at Washington University in
St. Louis and coauthor of Against Intellectual Monopoly. In many
areas, he says, "people aren't creating new products because they
fear a nightmare of copyright litigation."
There's a further twist. Books and other creative works behind
the copyright wall aren't all that could be o limits. Much of the
metadata that libraries employ to catalogue their holdings falls
into a gray area with regard to how it can be reused. That's because
many libraries purchase or license metadata from commercial sup-
pliers or from the OCLC, a large library coöperative that syndicates
an array of cataloguing information. And because librarians have
long used metadata from many sources in classifying their hold-
ings, it can be extraordinarily di cult to sort out what's under
license and what's not, or who owns what rights. The confusion
makes even the DPLA's seemingly modest e ort to collect meta-
data fraught with complications, according to David Weinberger.
He says the DPLA is making progress at solving this problem, but
when the library opens its virtual doors, patrons may have to make
do with scanty descriptions of its contents.
Dreams and Realities
Some scholars believe that copyright restrictions will frus-
trate any attempt to create a universal online library unless
Congress changes the law. James Grimmelmann, a copy-
right expert at New York Law School, feels that it will be
"very, very hard" to include orphan works in a digital database
without new legislation. Siva Vaidyhanathan, a University of Vir-
ginia media studies professor who wants to build an international
project to organize research materials online, believes that major
changes in copyright law are essential to creating a digital library
that includes recent works. He senses that it may take many years of
public pressure to get politicians to deliver the necessary remedies.
While Palfrey is hesitant to discuss legal issues, he expresses
some hope that progress can be made without congressional action.
He feels that the DPLA may be able to hash out an agreement
with publishers and authors that would enable it to o er access
to at least some of the orphans and other books published since
1923. The DPLA may, according to some copyright experts, have
an advantage over Google Book Search in negotiating such an
agreement and getting it blessed by the courts: it's a nonprofit.
The DPLA has made it clear that it will be meticulous in respect-
ing copyrights. If it can't find a way around current legal con-
straints, whether through negotiation or through legislation, it
will have to limit its scope to books that are already in the public
domain. And in that case, it's hard to see how it would be able to
distinguish itself. After all, the Web already o ers plenty of sources
for public-domain books. Google still provides full-text, search-
able copies of millions of volumes published before 1923. So do
the HathiTrust, a vast book database run by a consortium of librar-
ies, and Brewster Kahle's Internet Archive. Amazon's Kindle Store
o ers thousands of classic books free. And there's the venerable
Project Gutenberg, which has been transcribing public-domain
texts and putting them online since 1971 (when the project's cre-
ator typed the Declaration of Independence into a mainframe at
the University of Illinois). Although the DPLA may be able to o er
some valuable features of its own, including the ability to search
collections of rare documents held by research libraries, those
features would probably interest only a small group of scholars.
Despite the challenges it faces, the Digital Public Library of
America has an enthusiastic corps of volunteers and some gen-
erous contributors. It seems likely that by this time next year, it
will have reached its first milestone and begun operating a meta-
data exchange of some sort. But what happens after that? Will the
library be able to extend the scope of its collection beyond the early
years of the last century? Will it be able to o er services that spark
the interest of the public? If the DPLA is nothing more than plumb-
ing, the project will have failed to live up to its grand name and
its even grander promise. The dream of H. G. Wells---and, for that
matter, Robert Darnton---will have been deferred once again.
NICHOLAS CARR WRITES ABOUT TECHNOLOGY AND CULTURE FOR SEVERAL PUBLICATIONS,
INCLUDING THE ATLANTIC. HIS MOST RECENT BOOK IS THE SHALLOWS: WHAT THE INTERNET
IS DOING TO OUR BRAINS.
Internet Archive founder
Brewster Kahle says the
DPLA should support a
network of libraries and not
build a centralized one.
JEFF C HIU/AP
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