Staving off business interests and restrictions from universal access to digitized books

It caught me by surprise that International Herald Tribune’s (IHT) online news story about several research libraries defying Google’s and Microsoft’s books digitization schemes had just been retracted. The story’s link is supposed to be this http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/10/19/business/19library.php. See for yourself. I guess that Google and/or Microsoft put a lot of pressure on IHT to hide the story from public access.

If I’m not mistaken, it was about two years ago that both giants (with Google being first in 2004) started to launch books digitization projects for the purpose of providing researchers worldwide online access to old books that reside in the public libraries. They extended the power of the Internet from merely providing search engines for web sites’ contents.

Google and Microsoft have succeeded but only to some extent. For not all research libraries agree to their terms. The giants are now facing an uphill battle versus an alliance that believes that access to content should be insulated from business interests and restrictions. That alliance is Open Content Alliance (OCA). The OCA offers the same services as Google and Microsoft, but differs in terms of levels of access to the content. While respecting copyrights, the OCA wants the broadest number of Internet users have free access to digitized books irregardless of which search engines are used. Thus far, the alliance is focused on more than 80 libraries and research institutions worldwide contributing out-of-copyright works.

Google had wanted the US Library of Congress to be its first major partner in books digitization. But the latter had decided to deal on a more open approach, thus, choosing OCA instead for a project that will digitize the Library’s public domain works including “brittle” books and US history volumes. Doron Weber, Program Directof of Sloan Foundation that granted 2 million dollars to Library of Congress for such project, said: “God bless Google and Microsoft, and they’ll do what they do. But we need to do the right thing, because we’re in the privileged position of thinking about what’s good for the country and society over the long-term.”

In the homefront, Wikipilipinas’s founder, Gus Vibal, wants to digitize Filipino works with the end in view of preserving them for future use. He also wants universal access to the digitized versions. But it is not yet clear whether he’s thinking along the lines of Google and Microsoft or OCA, even though Vibal once said that he’s mulling over eventually monetizing visits to the nascent online Philippine knowledge portal.

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