by Sarah Kosofsky

When one thinks of a public library, one might think of a building filled with stacks of hundreds of books.  One dream of many, however, is to have a giant online “digital public library.” For quite some time now, there have been plans by a coalition of libraries, non-profits, and universities to create the Digital Public Library of America, or DPLA.

Those involved with the DPLA will begin their project by digitizing public domain works.  Many of these works have not had their copyrights renewed or were published without proper copyright notice.  Digitized materials will also include government works.

What may be considered one of the biggest obstacles that DPLA faces is that of the length of copyrights.  A copyright ends 70 years after an author’s death or 95 years from first publication for works for hire.  For many works, if the owner of the work cannot be found, the rights cannot be cleared; these are called “orphan works.”  If the copyrights didn’t last as long as they do, the DPLA would have plenty more material for their collection.

Google is also pushing for the release of many orphan works.  One of their methods of justification for digitizing orphaned works is claiming that the digitizing is fair use. 

Academic librarians are hoping that Google’s fair use defense can save them from a class-action lawsuit this fall.  If this happens, a precedent will be set for the digitization of orphan works.  If successful, the DPLA will have the opportunity to make many more materials free to the public.

On the other side of this fight are authors and publishers fearful that any changes or precedents set in this lawsuit might take away their rights to their own work.  If nothing else, a defeat for them might mean an increased fear of eventual loss of rights.

Are you cheering for Google or the authors of the orphaned works?  How might the upcoming lawsuit or the creation of the DPLA affect your library or business?