Thursday, January 13, 2011

Should Digital Public Works Be Exclusive?

According to The New York Times, the European Commission look likely to respond to the pressure to limit the amount of time private companies can exercise exclusive use of digitized materials from the public domain.

Having already digitised millions of works, Google remains the biggest benefactor of the current situation. Google and others can restrict access to the works and yet also benefit themselves through the works remaining commercial exclusive to them. The move to reduce the exclusive period from the current 15 years to 7 would enable the public to benefit better from what is ‘public domain’ works. The advocates of the current move wish to see increased access for not-for-profit organizations such as Europeana, which is an online digital service supporting European arts and culture funded by the EU.

As more national treasures and public domain works get digitised it makes sense to get these into the public domain and not restrict them to one digital owner. Google and others may have paid huge sums to digitise the works but they came from libraries who had paid for the original books out of public funds. Some would suggest that what is public should remain public and philanthropy in this case should come before profit.

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