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.
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.
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.