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German national library rocks blogosphere

Submit material or cop €10,000 fine

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The German blogosphere has got itself into a bit of a tizz over the Nationalbibliothek's alleged plan to catalogue the entire local internet - in the process obliging every website owner and blogger to submit material or face a €10,000 fine.

According to the Financial Times, the shock strategy to bend the web to the national library's will at first provoked delight as bloggers sniffed the faint scent of immortality, unaware of the repercussions of non-compliance. One Robert Basic enthused: "My parents are never going to believe I'm going to be catalogued by the German national library."

It didn't take long, though, for news of the financial big stick to spread across cyberspace. One concerned citizen named "night watchman" declared that "the hassle of submitting pages and the threat of fines would kill the German-speaking internet as a forum of free speech".

Another suggested on heise.de: "Every home page owner should shunt them a pdf [file] with a copy of their website in highest quality, preferably all on the same day. Then [the library's] server would burst."

Mercifully, before the Nationalbibliothek was subjected to a ferocious pdf blitz, the rather less sensational truth finally fought its way into the light from the thick smog of blogdignation. The library had indeed in 2006 been mandated by the government to "collect web publications" and fine the uncooperative.

However, this applies to "the 20,000 publishers and academic institutions registered with the library [who] are obliged to submit web material to the library's server".

On 22 October, the government clarified that the library "should choose what it collected - based on its as-yet modest capacity and what it deemed to be of public interest". To date, it has captured just 40,000 e-books, 60,000 online dissertations and 1,200 e-journals.

Ute Schwens, director of the Nationalbibliothek's Frankfurt tentacle, clarified: "At the moment, we're only collecting e-books and online dissertations but we're going to be moving into the areas of blogs and websites fairly soon. It's got to be information other people might need but nothing purely commercial.

"We're talking to [newspaper and magazine] publishers about their sites, and we're interested in blogs by people in public life - but not in every site of every private individual."

Having thus calmed nerves, Schwens quickly proceeded to undo her diplomacy by offering the truly chilling: "But in the next few years, we're going to collect millions of files, perhaps even the web encyclopaedia Wikipedia. Now that should make all webbies happy." ®

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