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Supporting the Digital Libraries of the Future

Updated: Mar 15

Information is the lifeblood of democracy. This three-point plan seeks to protect information access in digital libraries, which are threatened by the publishing industry and copyright law.


Big Picture


Online libraries, like Internet Archive, serve an important role in democratizing media access. They preserve historical information and greatly increase book access. But these libraries are being threatened by publishing monopolies and digital copyright law. The federal government should uphold its duty to educate the public by ensuring that digital libraries remain accessible and available to all for the foreseeable future. 


Operative Definitions


  1. Controlled Digital Lending: The process by which a library digitizes a book or other form of media and then lends this digitized content in place of the original, physical copy. Just as if a person was purchasing a physical copy, though, a limited number of copies are available ,and only one person can borrow the material at a time. 

  2. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA): An act passed in 1998 that modified the existing copyright law to apply to digital content on the Internet. This act established the “notice and takedown” method of preventing copyright liability for Internet service providers and established protections for the use of copyrighted content on the Internet.

  3. Notice and Takedown Method: Allows those that hold copyright to remove user-uploaded material that infringes upon copyright laws. A notice is issued to the user before the material is removed. 


Important Facts and Statistics


  1. Internet Archive has collected and saved 150 billion web pages and counting, as well as over 1.8 million digitized texts.

  2. The Library of Congress has over 25 million books in its collection.

  3. In the first half of 2021 alone, YouTube auto-filter algorithms took 2.2 million unjustified copyright actions against content on the platform.


Three-Point Plan


(1) Crack down on publisher monopolies and unfair licensing policies. 

As publishing companies consolidate and grow, they often subject public libraries to increasingly strict licensing policies, such as raising prices on licensing books or setting a limit on how many e-books can be purchased relatively soon after a book has been published. These policies stretch already tight budgets and harm many libraries’ ability to serve the public through Controlled Digital Lending of e-books. The Federal Trade Commission has a duty to regulate publishing monopolies, especially when they have the potential to negatively affect a public service.


(2) Create a program to catalog public domain materials and use it to improve auto-filtering copyright algorithms.

Many materials, including well-known books, have recently entered the public domain. The Copyright Office already has a record of everything within the public domain, but making a formal, public catalog of this content would greatly improve auto-filtering copyright algorithms. The public catalog could be used to train algorithms to stop blocking public domain content. Previous research has suggested that this is an idea that could be effectively applied to the E.U. Internet copyright rules; as such, further research should be conducted to establish how such a program could work under existing U.S. copyright laws, such as the DMCA.


(3) Establish federal funding for organizations and libraries to digitize books and media collections.

Many libraries do not have the labor or funding necessary to digitize their books or old-school microfiche content. By providing block funding to states that can be distributed to local library systems, these books and forms of media can be made accessible to a wider audience, thus preserving fragile historical information about local news and history. This content could be saved and incorporated into local library systems, as well as larger systems, such as the Library of Congress.


Why This Initiative is Important


If the U.S. government truly believes in democratizing information, then more of a commitment needs to be made to preserve the future of accessible information on the Internet. Now is the time to step up and make it possible for anyone, anywhere, to learn something new.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


Sources


Copyright Alliance. “What Is the DMCA Notice and Takedown Process?” Copyright Alliance, Copyright Alliance, 22 Mar. 2021, https://copyrightalliance.org/faqs/what-is-dmca-takedown-notice-process/.


“Fascinating Facts”, Library of Congress. Accessed and archived 20 Apr. 2022. https://web.archive.org/web/20220421024753/https://www.loc.gov/about/general-information/#year-at-a-glance.


Freeland, Chris. “Library Leaders Forum Kicks off with Policy Discussion: Ways to Better Serve the Public”, Internet Archive Blog, 8 Oct. 2020. Accessed 20 Apr. 2022. https://blog.archive.org/2020/10/08/library-leaders-forum-kicks-off-with-policy-discussion-ways-to-better-serve-the-public/.


Routhier, Peter M. “Internet Archive Joins Opposition to the “SMART Copyright Act””, Internet Archive Blog, 29 Mar. 2022. Accessed 20 Apr. 2022. https://blog.archive.org/2022/03/29/internet-archive-joins-opposition-to-the-smart-copyright-act/.


“The Digital Millennium Copyright Act”, U.S. Copyright Office. Accessed and archived 20 Apr. 2022. https://web.archive.org/web/20220420170216/https://www.copyright.gov/dmca/.


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