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Presentation Details


Copyright Permission: Turning to Dust or Digital

Denise Troll Covey.

Books are turning to dust on library shelves because the books were not printed on acid-free paper. Digitization appears to be a viable way to preserve these books, but since much of the world's published literature is copyright protected, permission must be garnered from copyright holders.

A feasibility study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University Libraries to ascertain the likelihood of receiving permission to digitize copyrighted books and make them freely available on the web revealed that the process of seeking copyright permission for individual titles is tedious, time-consuming, and expensive. More often than not the effort fails either because the copyright holder cannot be located, doesn't respond, simply says "no", or grants permission with so many restrictions that they prohibit the work. The study also revealed that the success rate in acquiring copyright permission varies significantly with different types of publisher.

Based on the results of this study and subsequent experience in seeking copyright permission, this presentation will describe a new approach to the problem, designed to reduce the cost and improve the success rate. The new approach is to seek permission from the types of publishers more likely to grant permission and to ask for permission to digitize all of their out-of-print, in-copyright books - in exchange for giving the publisher preservation-quality images of their digitized books, which they can use to generate revenue through value-added, fee-based services like print-on-demand.

This approach is being used in the international Million Book Project with some success. Best estimates suggest that approximately 92% of the world's published literature is still in copyright, but out-of-print, neither generating revenue for the copyright holder nor easily accessible to potential readers. If the Million Book Project succeeds, it will preserve these books from decay, make them free-to-read on the web by anyone, anywhere, anytime, and create a new revenue stream for the publishers.


Denise Troll Covey  (United States)
Associate University Librarian
University Libraries
Carnegie Mellon University

Denise Troll Covey is Associate University Librarian of Arts, Archives, and Technology at Carnegie Mellon. In 2000-2001 she was also a Distinguished Fellow in the Digital Library Federation. Her professional work focuses on research and development of digital library collections, services, and software; copyright permissions, and assessment practices, and change management as these relate to digital libraries. Covey has academic degrees in theology, philosophy, and rhetoric.

  • Copyright Permission
  • Digitization
  • Digital Library

(30 min Conference Paper, English)