Heritage material plays a powerful role in society, providing the intellectual and cultural platform upon which humankind develops. With this in mind, it is highly important for the policies and practices surrounding book digitization to be maintained to the highest possible standards so that the act of preserving, accessing and using knowledge isn't compromised. The Reclaiming New Zealand's Digitised Heritage project was initiated to explore ways in which this can be ensured.

My research has investigated the practices of digital repositories hosted overseas and in New Zealand, with a focus on the terms and conditions by which online libraries provide access to New Zealand heritage material. Research was conducted using a random sample of 100 books from within the New Zealand National Bibliography. Each title was searched for within six major repositories, with access and usage restrictions being assessed. All sample books were published before 1890, and are highly likely to have public domain status within New Zealand (where copyright expires 50 years after the author's death).

Key findings to date

Out of a sample of 100 books:
-50% of NZ Heritage Books have been digitized.
-48% of digitized books have access restricted by at least one repository.
-98% of digitized books have usage restrictions in the form of licenses or contracts.
Hathi Trust was the most restrictive repository, with access restricted to 91% of the sample books hosted. Google Books was the second most restrictive repository, at 44%. The other four sample repositories did not impose access restrictions (i.e. Internet Archive, Early New Zealand Books, New Zealand Electronic Text Center and Project Gutenberg).

All but two of the sample books hosted by Hathi Trust had been originally digitized by Google Books, and were subject to access restrictions required by Google as a prerequisite for hosting. Firstly, all books classified as “snippet view” on Google Books are completely blocked within Hathi Trust. Furthermore, none of the books originally digitized by Google Books are able to be downloaded from the Hathi Trust website. These restrictions contributed to Hathi Trust having the highest rate of access restrictions.

Google Books' high level of restriction arose from their policy of blocking access to all books that have been published within the past 140 years. Google has adopted this policy so that it can estimate the copyright status of books under New Zealand law, rather than undertaking the time-consuming and sometimes impossible task of individually assessing the copyright status of each book (which requires accurate knowledge of when the author died). Unfortunately, many public domain books have become blocked or restricted as collateral damage during this process of estimation. It is interesting to note that any sample book blocked to New Zealand audiences is available to American audiences. This is because any work published before 1923 is in the American public domain.
In addition to my close analysis of these six repositories, I did a preliminary study that explored the pay-per-download market for books. At this stage I have only analyzed two repositories offering paid downloads: General Books LLC and the iTunes Store. Out of the sample books that had been digitized, 72% are being offered as paid downloads within these sites. The minimum price was $4.99 USD, and the maximum was $9.99 USD.
Thankfully, 96% of digitized sample books were freely accessible within at least one repository. This was the result of open repositories who have archived books digitized by other repositories, and made their copies freely accessible to users without charge. Consequently, users are highly likely to find a fully accessible version of a digitized book if they make the effort to search all possible repositories. Unfortunately, many users may be unaware that accessible copies are available within other repositories, or may be discouraged by the time-consuming process required to search multiple sites.


1) New legal frameworks should be established to clearly define what restrictions are legitimate, and which are unreasonable and breach the public interest.

2) New international standards of copyright should be negotiated in order to ensure that users from all jurisdictions are able to access and use content on fair and equitable terms (especially heritage material that originated within their own jurisdiction).

3) Not-for-profit institutions and government archivists should be allowed to archive any public domain work that has been digitized, without any licensing barriers.

4) There should be a standardized process for copyright determination, ideally based on the use of accurate biographical information. Both users and rights-holders should have the ability to easily notify repositories if they feel that the copyright status of a book has been incorrectly determined.

5) Legal frameworks need to uphold copyright exemptions (such as fair-dealing/fair-use and the public domain) as having priority over licenses and contracts. Otherwise, reasonable uses risk being compromised by website terms and conditions.

6) Digital versions of public domain books should always be available free of charge, unless a genuinely transformative version of the book has been created which meets the threshold for new copyright protection.

Project Supervisor: Dr. Brenda Chawner
Student Researcher: Alex Clark
This project was initiated as part of the Summer Scholar research scholarship scheme within the School of Information Management, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

A draft of my journal article can be viewed below. Feel free to email me with any comments or suggestions.
File Size: 228 kb
File Type: docx
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[Latest revision: 31st March 2013]


05/05/2012 2:31am

"Restricting usage to academic scholarship and research only, without appreciation of other potentially beneficial uses.
-Allowing audiences within the USA to view and download NZ heritage material published before 1923, whilst restricting this content to New Zealanders if it was published after 1870."

This is the law of your country, though. These are public domain in the U.S., but not in New Zealand.

Kiwi Alex
08/05/2012 12:14pm

Hi Chris, sorry for the slow reply. I'm currently putting together a new blog post which will cover the concerns that you have raised. Thanks for getting in touch :)

Kiwi Alex
01/04/2013 12:55pm

My response to Chris' comment has now been archived. Click here to view: http://www.kiwialex.com/let-the-past-sing-freeing-the-voices-of-yesterday.html

09/05/2012 11:25am

Interesting stuff. But let us not forget that for the nineteenth century NZ studies will always depend heavily on non-book material - from pamphlets, through to unpublished diaries, letters and other records spread through our many archives and libraries. It would be a challenging (but very useful) project to investigate the digital possibilities in that wider field

Kiwi Alex
09/05/2012 12:08pm

Great point David. I think it will always be important for researchers to remember the wealth of information available off-line through traditional avenues (and to remember the value of preserving the physical record).

Hopefully further digitisation is able to make these works more easily available to those who may not have access otherwise. Digitisation is also a great way to open up avenues to new types of research through data-mining techniques.

I understand that a few organisations have started to digitise non-book items such as diaries, letters and other records. You might be interested in exploring some of the following:


09/05/2012 3:53pm

We are working to digitise the Stout Pamphlet collection held here at the Victoria University. It's a large collection with around 80 volumes of pamphlets. We hope researchers will find it useful.

11/05/2012 11:20am

80 bound volumes? How many actual pamphlets. Is there a way a list of titles - are they in VUW catalogue?

15/05/2012 4:44pm

Hi Paul, Sorry about the slow reply. Yes there will be 80 volumes when the project is complete and we will upload a few volumes at a time when they are ready. The catalogue for the collection is online here: http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-ColStou.html

I think there would be around 10 pamphlets per volume.

Kiwi Alex
09/05/2012 9:28pm

Sounds interesting, feel free to post a link when it's available online.


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    Research Blog

    I am currently researching the policies and practices of online libraries in order to better understand the wider dynamics of knowledge in a digital environment.

    At the heart of this project is the desire to ensure that policies of access, usage and preservation are developed to the highest possible standard whilst balancing the diverse needs of multiple groups within society.

    My first case-study has explored how New Zealand heritage material is being either restricted or permitted by various online institutions in New Zealand, the USA, and around the world.

    My research blog contains details of my key findings to date, and will be updated as more findings come to light.

    My research was initiated as part of Victoria University's Summer Scholar scheme in Nov 2011, which offers scholarships for student research at the end of each year. My project has been conducted under the supervision of Brenda Chawner, within the School of Information Management.





    March 2013
    April 2012


    Online Libraries