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Photographers slam British Library's mission creep

Big bureaucrats scoff at the law

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The Stop Clause 43 campaigners have sounded a warning over the British Library's newspaper digitisation initiative.

The project certainly isn't Freetard friendly. In fact, it demands money for access to material that's free to view today in Colindale. The big institution appears to have taken a Google-like approach: shoot first, and ask questions later. It's questionable whether the Library has the rights to the stuff it is digitizing. While it has a historical exclusive license, this doesn't cover online rights. But one of the oddest aspects is that the venture, in partnership with Friends Reunited owner Brightsolid, is a state-granted commercial monopoly.

A historical analogy is the East India company, which successfully saw off all threats to its monopoly status for over 200 years, adopting the functions of the state itself. It eventually merged into the imperial bureaucracy.

For Stop 43's Paul Ellis, this is "Big Culture" - what he calls the powerful galleries, museums, and quangos like the Arts Council - taking the mickey.

"It's clear now that the whole orphan works programme is one big supertanker, taking just as long to turn and stop," Ellis told us. "The British Library's statement reads as if Clause 43 had been enacted. Unfortunately for them, the supertanker has a new captain.

"Big Culture has looked at Google and wants to do the same thing. They just want to get on digitizing and build up a head of steam. Then nobody will be able to do anything about it."

The wrinkle is that newspaper copyright is far from straightforward. Only unsigned articles lapse from copyright after seventy years. For bylined pieces and photographs it's life plus 70. And since a newspaper is a bundle of all three, it's a complex picture.

James Murdoch also weighed in on the plans, pointing out that it isn't a free service, but a private monopoly.

"This is not simply being done for posterity, nor to make free access for library users easier, but also for commercial gain via a paid‐for website.

"The move is strongly opposed by major publishers. If it goes ahead, free content would not only be a justification for more funding, but actually become a source of funds for a public body."

So it's no Kumbaya giveaway - something that the freetards, who think in black and white terms, have yet to realise.

It's useful to place the project into the larger context of mission creep. Earlier this year the Library vowed to archive the UK web - again, a load of other people's stuff - with the taxpayer paying the bill, while a cosy monopoly and the bureaucrats reap the reward.

A bit like the bank bail-out, really.

There are many other alternative approaches that can benefit us punters as well as the creators, without creating permanent jobs for the bureaucrats. We'll explore some of these next week. ®

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