Copyright and Digital Libraries: Securing Access to Information in the Digital Age1

Copyright and Digital Libraries: Securing Access to Information in the Digital Age1

Christophe Geiger
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2136-7.ch007
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Challenged by new technology, copyright is currently in turmoil. Increasingly regarded by the general public as a curb to the universal dissemination of knowledge, it seems to have no alternative but to include access to information in order to meet the challenges posed by the knowledge society.3 It might even be its ability to bring together opposing but complementary views that will guaranty its durability in the future and whether it can adapt to a new economic, technological and social environment. Copyright law has shown a remarkable ability to adapt to new developments in the past and has the necessary tools to ensure that this continues to be the case in the future, although the massive technological changes will probably require rethinking the mechanisms for its implementation. It is, therefore, necessary not to think in terms of opposing rights, but of the complementary nature of copyright and the right of access to information, so as to reconcile the two, which is both necessary and desirable. The issue of how to accommodate those two rights is of course of particular importance for libraries that wish to use the fantastic opportunities of digital technologies to both preserve and make accessible works in a easy and cost effective way to the public. Conceiving an optimal legal framework, allowing digital libraries to expand while at the same time securing a fair return to creators and editors might therefore constitutes one of the main challenges for copyright in the digital age. Accordingly, it will be necessary, first of all, to reiterate a number of basic principles of copyright law and carry out a brief historical survey. A study will then need to be carried out of how the advent of the information society has changed the existing balances. This will be followed by a brief discussion of recent developments in the legal provisions currently in force. This in turn would lead us to consider both the changes necessary to those provisions to ensure better access to information as well as certain initiatives that are either under way or planned, with the aim of striking a balance between the interests involved.
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First of all, it should be pointed out that copyright law relates not only to the rights of authors, but refers to a much more complex legal situation. Since its inception, copyright law has attempted to reconcile the claims of the various players, who are the author/creator, the public and commercial operators (exploiters such as producers and distributers). It is essential for copyright legislation to balance these different interests4. Although it is true that the position of these players may vary according to the national legislation concerned, there can be no doubt about the need to strike a fair balance between the various claims. However, it is not an easy task, especially as the interests of the different players vary considerably and, depending on the situation, may even clash.

For example, authors will have an interest in benefiting from the fruits of their labors by receiving payment for the exploitation of their work. However, at the creative stage they will also have an interest in accessing existing works in order to build on them and use them as inspiration for their own work. This is particularly obvious when the author aims to produce a scientific work, since access to existing works will provide a guarantee of the quality and seriousness of his research. At the same time, exploiters will want to recoup their investment in the production of a work. Nonetheless, when they produce a work that incorporates elements already protected by copyright, it will be in their interest not to be excessively obstructed by existing monopolies. Finally, the public will want to have easy and affordable access to works for information and entertainment purposes. However, it will also be in its interest for payment to be made to creators so that new works continue to be created and produced. These examples illustrate the complexity of the interests involved and the need for a balanced approach that takes account of needs and requirements with regard to both protection and access.

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