Thursday, December 31, 2009

Finding My "Voice" and my "Purpose"

Why does this blog exist? What is it's purpose? And finally, who am I?

Let me begin with the last question. "I" am a book lover/collector, a professional artist, a lover of knowledge and finally, a concerned human being. I am concerned over something new I learned of on PBS's News Hour about Google Books. The article can be viewed here.

Here's a quick synopsis of the story. Google is scanning millions of books - 40 million to be exact, and digitizing them to make them available online. Sounds great, right? Well, there's a little snafu.

A lot of the books are already in public domain, but an alarming number of these books are in gray area of copyright and are known as "orphan books". Essentially, there is a period between 1923 and 1963 where the author or other copyright holder had to renew their copyright after 28 years or the work would pass into public domain. Finding out whether or not these works had their copyright renewed properly and is still under the protection of copyright law is hard to do, at times almost impossible.

I have long held the belief that a majority of the works created within this period did not have their copyright renewed and are in public domain, but few are aware of it. I think Google has the same belief and is gambling that they can sell these "orphaned" books,at a profit, and retain the revenue from them. Google is a large enough entity that if a copyright holder for a book that GoogleBooks has been selling does come to light, they will be able to quickly settle and continue business-as-usual.

That is where I have a problem. If feel that orphaned works hold a vast amount of information and knowledge that belongs to the world, not to the corporation that scanned them to be held behind secure sites, only released after a fee (ransom) has been paid.

GoogleBooks is portraying themselves as a great philanthropical corporation that is saving these works from obscurity by scanning and digiting them, and in that respect, they are correct. And, in all fairness, they are also scanning works that are truly in public domain, and they are offering these works in their full form for free online. I commend them for this. I wish they would rethink their plans for these "orphaned" works and offer them to the public for free as well.

The bottom line purpose of this site is to bring to light those true philanthropic organizations, corporations and private citizens who are giving to the world, without charge, access to volumes and volumes of information. Obvious future posts will be about Project Gutenberg or the Library of Congress' digital collection and But there are many smaller sites that deserve to be recognized as well. I will scour the world wide web and search for these depositories of free knowledge and highlight them here.