What to Do With Books in Copyright

As is well known, we are digitizing all the bound volumes in our library, including books in copyright. I don't want to address the legal issues surrounding the digitization itself, but instead discuss uses of these materials after digitization. We do not show any part of in-copyright books in MBooks, leading people to wonder why we even bother to digitize them. We can answer that question in a number of ways:

1) Keyword searches. People can still conduct keyword searches within the book. We don't show snippets like Google does in copyrighted works, but we do display how many matches occur in the volume. Also, Google only shows a maximum of three snippets per volume, whereas we list all of the pages on which matches occur. We believe that this is useful information for people deciding whether they want to take the next step and retrieve the book from the library shelf.

2) Access for students with visual impairments. For many years, students with disabilities could request to have books digitized by the UM Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (OSSD). Many universities have similar services. The students could then use the digitized books with screen readers such as JAWS. This is explicitly allowed under section 121 of U.S. Copyright law: http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#121

We now have a system in place for students with visual impairments to use MBooks in much the same way. Once a student registers with OSSD, any time she checks out a book already digitized by Google, she will automatically receive an email with a URL. Once the student selects the link, she is asked to login. The system checks whether the student is registered with OSSD as part of this program, and whether she has checked out this particular book. If the student passes both of those tests, she will get access to the entire full-text of the book, whether it is in copyright or not, in an interface that is optimized for use with screenreaders.

Currently, this system is available to UM students with visual impairments. We are investigating the possibility of including students with learning disabilities as well.

3) Establishing copyright status. One of the conundrums of digitization is knowing the copyright status of any given volume. U.S. copyright law has changed over the years, and many books published after 1923 are actually in the public domain. For instance, under previous copyright law, books needed to have a copyright symbol and statement in order to be eligible for copyright. The terms of copyright were much shorter, but copyright holders could renew their copyright after 28 years.

There is a unit in the library, headed by Judy Ahronheim, that is investigating the copyright status of U.S. works published between 1923 and 1964. They check whether the book contains a copyright statement and symbol, and also whether the copyright was renewed (using the Stanford Copyright Renewals Database at http://collections.stanford.edu/copyrightrenewals/). Over the past year, Judy's staff have examined over 26,000 volumes, and identified almost 15,000 that are in the public domain. These books are now freely available through MBooks as a result of their work.

Thus, there are multiple reasons for us to include copyrighted works in MBooks. Even though we cannot provide access to most of them for the majority of users, we can provide important services that make our collections much more accessible.


Perry Willett
on May 21, 5:02pm

See John Wilkin's blog post about "Discovering the Undiscovered Public Domain" for more discussion of #3 above: http://scholarlypublishing.org/jpwilkin/archives/13

on Aug. 19, 6:04am

great post