Harvard Professor Robert Dardon has a fascinating piece on books, college libraries, copyrights, and what’s Google’s drive to digitize the world’s books means to society. Some excerpts from the original New York Review of Books article are below.
- One of my colleagues is a quiet, diminutive lady, who might call up the notion of Marion the Librarian. When she meets people at parties and identifies herself, they sometimes say condescendingly, “A librarian, how nice. Tell me, what is it like to be a librarian?” She replies, “Essentially, it is all about money and power.”
- In 1790, the first copyright act—also dedicated to “the encouragement of learning”—followed British practice by adopting a limit of fourteen years renewable for another fourteen. How long does copyright extend today? According to the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 …it lasts as long as the life of the author plus seventy years. In practice, that normally would mean more than a century.
- Encyclopédie of Diderot, which organized knowledge into an organic whole dominated by the faculty of reason, with its successor from the end of the eighteenth century, the Encyclopédie méthodique, which divided knowledge into fields that we can recognize today: chemistry, physics, history, mathematics, and the rest. In the nineteenth century, those fields turned into professions, certified by Ph.D.s and guarded by professional associations.
- Along the way, professional journals sprouted throughout the fields, subfields, and sub-subfields. The learned societies produced them, and the libraries bought them. This system worked well for about a hundred years. Then commercial publishers discovered that they could make a fortune by selling subscriptions to the journals.
- The Journal of Comparative Neurology now costs $25,910 for a year’s subscription; Tetrahedron costs $17,969 (or $39,739, if bundled with related publications as a Tetrahedron package); the average price of a chemistry journal is $3,490
- If approved by the court—a process that could take as much as two years—the settlement will give Google control over the digitizing of virtually all books covered by copyright in the United States.