Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Should Authors be Paid by National Archives?

Whilst the omnivores hoover up library’s works and national digital archives are created in the name of digitisation and preservation, there are questions about permissions and payment.If we remove the public domain works from the equation, should 'in copyright' works be digitised for free and who would receive any royalty paid?

We read about the authors who are refusing to let their works be scanned for an online archive at the National Library of Wales. A year ago the archive project received a £1 million grant to digitise modern Welsh writing. The library aims to gain the permission from authors to digitise the contents of 90 journals, published since 1900. Some 600,000 pages of Welsh literary works, including poetry, translations and reviews, and make these available online for free.

The library is asking for permission but we are all aware how difficult a task it can be in tracing rights owners. The library has also offered to take down from its site material by writers who discover they have been digitised and object.

‘The big issue that is going to face writers everywhere is that certain corporations want to digitise works that are in copyright without paying the authors,’ says the former national poet Gwyneth Lewis. She continued, "If a writer's work is going to be put on a different platform, rights need to be negotiated with the writer for that extension, and that hasn't happened, therefore they can't have the work."

Other writers are happy for their works to be digitised without a payment and believe that the cultural heritage is important or that they may have be ‘lost’ without this exercise.

National library librarian Andrew Green is reported as saying ‘Since the scope of the project runs back to 1900, much of this research is essentially a historical exercise; the majority of authors involved are dead.’ He goes on to further justify the action, ‘Our experience has been that 99% of copyright holders are happy to grant consent; the proportion of copyright holders who have not been contacted and would refuse is therefore very small.’

This incident,we believe, is one of principle and important in the issue of digitisation. Public domain works are not in question but works still in copyright are. Who will control the permissions to the works work online? If made available for free will the archive undermine the writers value or enhance it? What restrictions will be applied to ensure 'fair uasge'? If a royalty fee were to be paid, would this be direct to the author, via bodies such as ALCS or PLR, or to the publishers and agents as royalties?

We have rules with respect to copyright and they should be applicable to all and not to some.

The author is the creator of the works and its value and should be rewarded and not taken for granted in the greater scheme of digital projects. We have previously covered the issue of the adoption of ‘orphans’ and the US Orphan Act. We need to be aware that the majority of works sit is an area between public domain and 'in print' and that death does not negate rights. The older the works then often the more difficult to trace rights in this ‘grey’ area becomes.

If its ok for the library why not for others who may not be so open?