[PGCanada] Geist: National Web library do-able, affordable, visionary

Wallace J.McLean ag737 at freenet.carleton.ca
Mon Jan 10 08:31:58 PST 2005

Full text distributed with Prof. Geist's kind permission:

Toronto Star 
Michael Geist
Law Bytes 


National Web library do-able, affordable, visionary


In the mid-1990s, Ottawa established a bold new vision for the Internet 
in Canada. The centrepiece was a commitment to establish national 
Internet access from coast to coast to coast, supported by a program 
that would enable the country to quickly become the first in the world 
to connect every single school, no matter how small or large, to the 
Internet. Not only did Canada meet its goal, but it completed the 
program ahead of schedule. 

As we enter the middle of this decade, the time has come for Industry 
Minister David Emerson and his colleagues to articulate a new future-
oriented vision for the Canadian Internet. 

While the last decade centred on access to the Internet, the dominant 
issue this decade is focused on access to the content on the Internet. 
To address that issue, the federal government should again think big. 

One opportunity is to greatly expand the National Library of Canada's 
digital efforts by becoming the first country in the world to create a 
comprehensive national digital library. 

The library, which would be fully accessible online, would contain a 
digitally scanned copy of every book, government report, and legal 
decision ever published in Canada. 

A national digital library would provide unparalleled access to 
Canadian content in English and French along with aboriginal and 
heritage languages such as Yiddish and Ukrainian. The library would 
serve as a focal point for the Internet in Canada, providing an 
invaluable resource to the education system and ensuring that access to 
knowledge is available to everyone, regardless of economic status or 
geographic location. 

>From a cultural perspective, the library would establish an exceptional 
vehicle for promoting Canadian creativity to the world, leading to 
greater awareness of Canadian literature, science, and history. 

By extending the library to government documents and court decisions, 
it would help meet the broader societal goal of providing all Canadians 
with open access to their laws and government policies. Moreover, since 
the government holds the copyright associated with its own reports and 
legal decisions, it is able to grant complete, unrestricted access to 
all such materials immediately alongside the approximately 100,000 
Canadian books that are already part of the public domain. 

Creating virtual libraries to complement the world's great physical 
libraries is already underway. Project Gutenberg, an all-volunteer 
initiative, has succeeded in bringing thousands of public domain texts 
to the Web. 

Last summer, the British Library unveiled an ambitious plan to digitize 
and freely post on the Internet thousands of historical newspapers that 
are now in the public domain. That plan will bring more than one 
million pages of history to the Internet, including work from a young 
Charles Dickens. 

Last month Google announced that it had reached agreement with several 
of the world's leading research libraries, including ones at Harvard, 
Stanford, Michigan, Oxford, and the New York Public Library, to scan 
more than 15 million books into its search archive. Once the Google 
project is completed, the general public will enjoy complete, full-text 
access to thousands of books that are now part of the public domain 
because the term of copyright associated with those books has expired. 

For books that remain subject to copyright, Google will still scan a 
copy of the book, but will only grant the general public more modest 
access to its content, providing users with smaller excerpts of the 
work - a policy that is consistent with principles of fair use under 
copyright law. 

The Google project epitomizes the essence of the copyright balance. The 
public will benefit from unrestricted access to works in the public 
domain along with more limited access to other work, all without the 
need to seek any prior permission. 

Authors will still enjoy copyright protection in their work and will 
frequently find that greater access leads to increased commercial 

While digitally scanning more than 10 million Canadian books and 
documents is a daunting task, the Google project illustrates that it is 
financially feasible. Reports suggest that it will cost Google 
approximately $10 to scan each book. 

Assuming similar costs for a Canadian project and a five-year timeline, 
the $20 million annual price tag represents a fraction of the total 
governmental commitment toward Canadian culture and Internet 

In fact, the most significant barriers to a national digital library do 
not arise from fiscal challenges but rather from two potential 
copyright reforms currently winding their way through the system. 

First, the federal government is contemplating reversing the decade-old 
policy of avoiding Internet licensing by creating a new licensing 
system for Internet content that would create new restrictions to 
accessing online content. 

By proposing a very narrow definition of what can be accessed without 
compensation, the plan would effectively force millions of Canadian 
students to pay for access to content that is otherwise publicly 

Despite opposition from the education community, the proposal is 
marching forward, constituting a significant setback to the goal of 
encouraging Internet use in Canada. 

Given the Supreme Court of Canada's recent commitment to copyright 
balance and robust user rights, it is clear that for most uses no 
license is needed to provide schools with appropriate access to online 
content such as a potential national digital library. With this in 
mind, this proposal should be quickly scrapped. 

Second, the Canadian Heritage Minister Liza Frulla's Copyright Policy 
Branch recently announced that this year it plans to launch a public 
consultation on a proposal to extend the term of copyright in Canada 
from its current 50 years after the death of the author to at least 70 
years after death (authors enjoy exclusive copyright in their work from 
the moment of creation until 50 years after they die). 

Extending the copyright term would deal a serious blow to a national 
digital library because it would instantly remove thousands of works 
from the public domain. Although the U.S. and European Union have 
extended their copyright terms by an additional 20 years, the vast 
majority of the world's population lives in countries that have not. 
Those countries have recognized that an extension is unsupportable from 
a policy perspective. It will not foster further creative activity, it 
is not required under international intellectual property law, and it 
effectively constitutes a massive transfer of wealth from the public to 
the heirs of a select group of copyright holders. 

Given the economic and societal dangers associated with a copyright 
term extension, even moving forward with a consultation constitutes an 
embarrassing case of putting the interests of a select few ahead of the 
public interest. 

A new year is traditionally a time for bold, new resolutions. As 
Parliamentarians return to Ottawa, they should be encouraged to seize 
the opportunity to establish a national vision for the Internet that 
will again propel Canada into a global leadership position. 

Supported by appropriate copyright policies, a national digital library 
comprised of every Canadian book ever published would provide an 
exceptional resource for Canadians at home as well as advantageously 
promote the export of Canadian culture abroad. 

Michael Geist is the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce 
Law at the University of Ottawa. He is 

on-line at www.michaelgeist.ca. The opinions expressed herein are 
personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of 

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