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The case for a Global Digital Public Library Network policy

By Bill KallmanThis guest blog is penned by Bill Kallman, CEO of Scayl, a direct, unlimited secure email solution, a longtime VC and real estate investor. He was a founding director of Streamcast, one of the defendant's in the landmark MGM v Grokster ruling.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

By Bill Kallman

This guest blog is penned by Bill Kallman, CEO of Scayl, a direct, unlimited secure email solution, a longtime VC and real estate investor. He was a founding director of Streamcast, one of the defendant's in the landmark MGM v Grokster ruling. He holds a M.S. in engineering from Stanford, B.A. in Chemistry from Reed College, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Google is under anti-trust scrutiny for its book publisher dealings. In A Book Grab by Google, Brewster Kahle rightly pleas:

We need to focus on legislation to address works that are caught in copyright limbo, and we need to stop monopolies from forming so that we can create vibrant publishing environments, and that we are very close to having universal access to all knowledge.

  But we must generalize this access argument beyond books. The issue is beyond just music too – which is a central focus of the debate since the advent of Napster, Morpheus, Kazaa, Grokster, Limewire, BitTorrent, and the litany of file sharing library tools. It includes movies, photography, journalism, textbooks, remixing too.

In short, it concerns all forms of creative works under copyright. All content has irrevocably collided with the disruptive innovations of the digital Internet and Web.

Why? Because it involves the natural advent of a global digital public library network on the Web and it is fundamentally at odds with legacy copyright policy enforcement.

The global digital public library network

The physical public library system and the emerging digital public library should be understood to be part of a global digital public library network, or GDPLN ("good plan") -- an open network that allows interoperability of all global DPLs.

Consider the Library of Congress (LOC). It is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution, started with Thomas Jefferson’s personal donation of his own private library. The Library's mission is to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations. It’s the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts in its collections. We support it with our taxes.

Libraries and copyright have a long and uneasy relationship. In 1870, Congress centralized the copyright system inside the LOC. The Copyright Office is in charge of administering compulsory and statutory licenses. It required all authors to deposit in the Library two copies of every book, pamphlet, map, print, and piece of music registered in the United States. The place to restructure and rebalance copyright in the digital era is in the LOC & Copyright Office – but it will take administrative leadership, likely Presidential as it did at the advent of radio when President Hoover was involved.

Today a de facto digital public library exists but copyright has not been rebalanced to embrace it. Our physical public libraries may legally have all content under copyright law but our digital public library may not. This is the root of the fundamental policy gap that is leading to the disruption of the content industries.

Rebalancing copyright can establish a thoughtful digital public library network policy, end the failed war on digital piracy, adequately compensate creative artists - from journalists and authors to musicians and movie makers – for their works, and legitimize today's de facto behavior of freely sharing content - under copyright or not - across the Web.

In the absence of a coherent digital library policy, personal home libraries are shared on peer-to peer networks to fill in holes in the GDPLN collection not provided by Google or digital library initiatives. This is not piracy: it is the natural sharing of home libraries which has occurred since Roman times.

The copyright war has failed Legacy copyright is dysfunctional in the Web era because it struggles to create artificial scarcity alongside a digital public library. Despite the efforts at control, all content flows freely. It should -- because the digital library is good for humanity. However, there is no compulsory, subscription or equivalent framework to recognize the existence of the GDPLN that provides a mechanism to collect a pool from its service providers and distribute it to creators of useful arts on the basis of their respective contributions. A similar compulsory solution was somewhat analogously created with the advent of radio.

Enforcement has failed, will continue to fail, and moreover should fail because it literally attacking the digital public library.

Consider the absurdity of music enforcement efforts. Look at China, which now gets free ad-supported music downloads in a label-approved deal with Google, while Americans and Europeans are sued for the natural behavior of sharing their private home digital library collections. The litany of harmful and fruitless litigation of GDPLN innovators and citizens continues go grow.

The private content industry is at war with the public digital library and the innovative companies providing the tools to build it. Paradoxically, copyright’s present policy is killing much of the content industry in the digital age by failing to codify the digital public library network.

The good of the library outweighs the interests of private library owners, yet we must find balance to compensate the creators of the useful arts.

Google itself is a product of digital libraries (the Stanford Digital Library Initiative). But under the "safe harbors" of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, it can spider, index, link to, and exploit innumerable copyrighted works and pay nothing to the creators of the content. Google presently stores and returns much of the world’s journalism, and it is steadily adding books, music, movies and television programming to complete its collection. It is not obligated to comply with the public library privacy guidelines as detailed at the American Library Association.

What is to be done? Consider a "straw-man" for a win-win global digital public library network policy that balances the needs of society and artists by restructuring copyright and extending physical public library principles to the digital age:

  1. Levy Google as an anchor fee producer, as if it were a radio station - but for all content. Level the playing field for all providers to participate in the GDPLN. Alter the safe harbor for search engine portals and require a royalty pool to be collected in a radio-like solution - but for ALL content.  
  2. Establish more uniform privacy policies.  
  3. Be open. Allow absolutely all libraries large and small from the LOC to the personal home shared folder to participate, so that new volumes can be added openly by the populace to the library  
  4. Encourage uniform metadata standards so volumes are better cataloged and retrieved from all nodes on the library network. Institute rare volume archiving standards so the library doesn't lose rare content  
  5. Permit streaming and downloading, recognize they are indistinguishable. Drop the distinction between webcasting libraries of content that stream it and download libraries of content that download for listening, reading and viewing.  
  6. Leverage low cost technology like P2P software instead of suing these important digital library innovations.  
  7. Legalize digital copies and distribution of any and all content types to be shared on the library network  
  8. Allow remixing to occur liberally with a revenue share model for the original creator and the re-mixer, depending on percentage of content used  
  9. Require participants in the library network to provide a slice of their revenue (like the radio model, like Google's free music in China, or their tax support in the case of public libraries offering digital services) so tax-supported entities provide a slice of their tax support to artists. Distribute it fairly and with regard for the cost of creating a work (movies get more than newspaper articles). Exempt home libraries because they will be taxed to support the public library system as they are today.

Time is running out. Work on the GDPLN digital library policy must begin. Engagement of the stakeholders with governmental involvement can and must lead to a truly pragmatic and balanced solution as was achieved after the somewhat analogous invention of radio.

I recognize that a process to achieve such a policy will be arduous. It must involve stakeholders. It does disrupt the status quo and rebalance copyright rather fundamentally. But the status quo is broken. Having dwelled on it for a decade I don't see any better solution to the dilemma presented by the collision of copyright with the open global digital public library network.

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