Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Public Libraries, The Internet Archive and Double Standards?

As libraries become a battleground for ebooks, who will win the digital library business?

A heated debate appears to be looming as the Internet Archive announces it is integrating the lending of books within its Open Library with Overdrive to participating libraries in the U.S. and elsewhere. The objective is to increase the number of books that are available for people to borrow digitally. Overdrive already claims some 70,000 titles that are being provided through 11,000 libraries worldwide. Now many more books that are not commercially available will be made available and can be borrowed from participating libraries using the same digital technology

A user can visit to search or browse for books with the "only ebook" check box checked to find books they can borrow and read online. If the book is a commercially available, then the user is directed to where they can borrow it from their local library using their library card. If the book is not commercially available and no one else has checked out the book, then the user can borrow it for a 2 week period via The Boston Public and Marine Biological Laboratory are among a number of libraries that have contributed titles for digital borrowing.

The Internet Archive appear to be treading on the very thin ice. Yes they are the same people that fought The Google Book Settlement! They claim that one person at a time will be allowed to check out a digital copy of an in-copyright book for two weeks and that due to copyright restrictions, the physical copy of the book won't be loaned during that same period. The interpretation of Fair Use may appear fair to The Internet Archive but not to authors and publishers who own these copyrights who may not have granted permissions. It also appears to be a different Land grab of Orphan Works which they fought to protect.

Mr. Kahle of the Internet Archive is quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying "We're just trying to do what libraries have always done." To add insult to injury Mr. Blake, of the Boston Library claims,. "If you own a physical copy of something, you should be able to loan it out. We don't think we're going to be disturbing the market value of these items." Some would seriously question the interpretations being used here and again ask why the Internet Archive appear to not practice what they preached against Google? Are publishers and authors happy with libraries scanning and passing around copyrighted works without permission and on the basis they own a copy?

Despite the current budget cuts, or because of them, the library world is being eyed up by many.

Sony have announced a new US Reader Library Programme which aims to help public libraries adopt eBooks and grow their collection. The programme will offer to enlighten library staff via a one-time web-based session covers digital reading formats, an overview of sources for digital materials, and training on Sony's Reader digital reading devices. Not surprisingly Sony will push Sony and provide digital reading devices for library staff and bi-annual updates on developments in eReading technology.

The Library program reaffirms Sony's commitment to work with local libraries throughout the US, "Libraries play an important role in our civic and cultural life, and Sony believes that it's important to support public library systems as they expand their services and digital offerings, particularly eBooks," said Phil Lubell, vice president for Sony's Reader business. "Our program is a new initiative that will provide librarians with additional resources, enabling them to inform and demonstrate to patrons how to benefit from their growing eBook collections."

Let's face it Sony want to sell ereaders and promote they lacklustre bookstore and must be feeling the heat on the streets today.

We will no doubt hear more on the Internet Archive interpretation of fair use or what some would suggest are double standards. It however clearly shows that irrespective of the financial constraints they face, libraries also face serious questions over its role, fair use and the clear conflict between its digital model and that of the commercial world.

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