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Acquiring Copyright Permission to Digitize for Open Access: What Does it Take?

subject: Denise Troll Covey
acquiring copyright permission
copyright law
Carnegie-Mellon University
digitize books
digital libraries
electronic books

For Immediate Release: October 27, 2005

Contact: David Seaman 202-939-4762
Kathlin Smith 202-939-4754

Acquiring Copyright Permission to Digitize for Open Access:
What Does it Take?

Washington, D.C.—Realizing the dream of creating a rich, openly
accessible digital library requires navigating copyright. In
a new report from the Digital Library Federation and the Council
on Library and Information Resources, Acquiring Copyright
Permission to Digitize and Provide Open Access to Books
author Denise Troll Covey examines the practical aspects of
seeking open access to books whose rights are privately held—that
is, most work published since 1923.

The author, principal librarian for special projects at Carnegie
Mellon University (CMU), describes three efforts at CMU, conducted
between 1999 and 2005, to make books freely available on the
Internet for public use: the Random Sample Feasibility Study,
the Fine and Rare Book Study, and the Million Book Project
Study. Her descriptions of this process and its results reveal
an array of challenges, but also suggest strategies for success.

The main finding is that obtaining legal clearances requires
an enormous investment of time, money, and patience. Locating
copyright holders is difficult, expensive, and often unsuccessful,
especially for older works. In the most successful of the three
studies—the Fine and Rare Book Study—publishers of 13 percent
of the titles targeted for digitization could not be found.
But of those that were found, 65 percent granted permission
to digitize their titles, accounting for 71 percent of the
titles for which permission was sought. In this study, the
cost of obtaining permission per title was about $78.

Publishers who chose not to grant permission to digitize often
feared lost revenue, even for older or out-of-print titles
that were not generating income. Many publishers, particularly
university presses, said that they wanted to participate but
could not because copyright had reverted to the author. The
most common reason publishers gave for not participating in
the Million Book Project, however, was that they did not have
the time and staff needed to check their paper files title-by-title
to determine copyright status and ownership.

The studies also revealed that publishers define “out of print”
differently than librarians do. Even though a book may be listed
as “out of print” in a catalog, publishers who still control
rights to a book may not consider it to be so because print
on demand can give a book new life.

The study’s findings are preceded by a brief history of copyright
law and practice. Acquiring Copyright Permission to Digitize
and Provide Open Access to Books
is available electronically
and at
Print copies are available for ordering through CLIR’s and
DLF’s Web site, for $25 per copy plus shipping and handling.

The Digital Library Federation, founded in 1995, is a partnership
organization of academic libraries and related organizations
that are pioneering the use of electronic-information technologies
to extend their collections and services.

The Council on Library and Information Resources is an independent,
nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the management
of information for research, teaching, and learning. CLIR works
to expand access to information, however recorded and preserved,
as a public good.

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