[PGCanada] Geist: National Web library do-able, affordable, visionary
ag737 at freenet.carleton.ca
Mon Jan 10 08:31:58 PST 2005
Full text distributed with Prof. Geist's kind permission:
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
>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
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
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
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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