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Copyright and licensing[edit]

Digital libraries are hampered by copyright law because, unlike with traditional libraries, digital libraries do not have access to works from every time period. The republication of material on the Web by libraries may require permission from rights holders, and there is a conflict of interest between them and publishers who may wish to create online versions of their acquired content for commercial purposes. In the year 2010 it was estimated that twenty three percent of books in existence were created before 1923 and thus out of copyright. Of those printed after this date, only five percent were still in print as of 2010. Thus, approximately 72 percent of books were not available to the public.[1]

There is a dilution of responsibility that occurs as a result of the spread-out nature of digital resources. Complex intellectual property matters may become involved since digital material is not always owned by a library.[2] The content is, in many cases, public domain or self-generated content only. Some digital libraries, such as Project Gutenberg, work to digitize out-of-copyright works and make them freely available to the public. An estimate of the number of distinct books still existent in library catalogues from 2000 BC to 1960, has been made.[3][4]

The Fair Use Provisions (17 USC § 107) under the Copyright Act of 1976 provide specific guidelines under which circumstances libraries are allowed to copy digital resources. Four factors that constitute fair use are "Purpose of the use, Nature of the work, Amount or substantiality used and Market impact."[5]

Some digital libraries acquire a license to "lend out" their resources. This may involve the restriction of lending out only one copy at a time for each license, and applying a system of digital rights management for this purpose (see also above).

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 was an act created in the United States to attempt to deal with the introduction of digital works. This Act incorporates two treaties from the 1996. This act criminalizes the attempt to circumvent measures which limit access to copyrighted materials. Further, it criminalizes the act of attempting to circumvent access control.[6] This act provides an exemption for nonprofit libraries and archives which allows up to three copies to be made, one of which may be digital. This may not be made public or distributed on the web, however. Further, it allows libraries and archives to copy a work if its format becomes obsolete.[7]

Copyright issues persist. As such, proposals have been put forward suggesting that digital libraries be exempt from copyright law. Although this would be very beneficial to the public, it may have a negative economic effect and authors may be less inclined to create new works.[8]

  1. ^ Van Le, Christopher, "Opening the Doors to Digital Libraries: A Proposal to Exempt Digital Libraries From the Copyright Act," Case Western Reserve Journal of Law, Technology & The Internet, 1.2 (Spring 2010),135.
  2. ^ Pymm, Bob. "Building Collections for All Time: The Issue of Significance." Australian Academic & Research Libraries. 37(1) (2006):61-73.
  3. ^ Antique Books
  4. ^ Kelly, Kevin (2006-05-14). "Scan This Book!". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 2008-03-07. When Google announced in December 2004 that it would digitally scan the books of five major research libraries to make their contents searchable, the promise of a universal library was resurrected. ... From the days of Sumerian clay tablets till now, humans have "published" at least 32 million books, 750 million articles and essays, 25 million songs, 500 million images, 500,000 movies, 3 million videos, TV shows and short films and 100 billion public Web pages. 
  5. ^ Hirtle, Peter B.,"Digital Preservation and Copyright," Stanford University Libraries. Retrieved October 24, 2011.
  6. ^ United States Copyright Office, "The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 - U.S. Copyright Office Summary"1998, 2.
  7. ^ United States Copyright Office, "The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 - U.S. Copyright Office Summary"1998, 15.
  8. ^ Van Le, Christopher, "Opening the Doors to Digital Libraries: A Proposal to Exempt Digital Libraries From the Copyright Act," Case Western Reserve Journal of Law, Technology & The Internet, 1.2 (Spring 2010),145.