(Lack of) Public Service Announcement: The National Library of New Zealand, Internet Archive, and Alleged Digital Piracy

The National Library of New Zealand has not covered itself in glory in recent times. The decision to axe most of the Overseas Collection (some 600,000 books) in order to make way for more New Zealand items (which it collects already, and which amounts to some 3,000 items a year) remains absolutely reprehensible. More about that issue can be found here – https://bookguardiansaotearoa.com/about/

But hitherto, this has simply been a matter for New Zealand. Sure, it hurts to see irreplaceable texts lost to modern-day bureaucratic vandals… but it was previously self-sabotage, except insofar as the loss of these books is a general loss for all humanity.

Now?

Now, the National Library of New Zealand is screwing directly with overseas authors and publishers. It is donating some 400,000 of these books to Internet Archive for online digitalisation. Including those from still-living authors, and works still under current copyright. The New Zealand Society of Authors is not happy (https://authors.org.nz//?s=national+library&submit=), while Philip Pullman wrote to the National Library of New Zealand back in September, raising concerns on behalf of the UK’s own Society of Authors. Now the British organisation has gone so far as to warn authors about this:

https://societyofauthors.org/News/News/2021/November/Internet-Archive-a-warning-to-authors

This is pertinent because, as noted by Pullman, the digitalisation is regardless of copyright… and while the National Library of New Zealand (bless their hearts) allows an opt-out process, it is only giving rights holders until 1st December, 2021, to opt their work out of the deal. After that date, authors and publishers would need to contact Internet Archive directly:

https://natlib.govt.nz/about-us/strategy-and-policy/collections-policy/overseas-published-collection-management#opt-out-process-for-rights-holders

The nature of the deadline means that overseas authors really need to get onto this quickly. I am one of the lucky ones, of course, since my work (by definition) wouldn’t qualify for the Library’s Overseas Collection, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt any writer to check to see if their work is on the List.

(It’s 400,000 books, so if you are checking, use CTRL + F).

As a disclaimer, I have used Internet Archive in the past, as a reader – in the case of my look at the Shakespeare Apocrypha, back in December 2019, I even linked to it. I do actually think it provides a useful service, after the manner of Project Gutenberg, if rather less user-friendly. I am also one of those people who think modern copyright law is far too restrictive and stifling*. But one can differentiate between archiving century-old texts that are public domain, and works by still-living authors. And I am certainly willing to grant that people should have the rights to their work during their own lifetime. Regardless of technical questions of legality, the National Library of New Zealand is straight-out stuffing their fingers in their ears here.

*If it were up to me, copyright would be twenty years, or until the death of the author, whichever is longer. The current system of death plus 50 years is excessive, never mind the extra twenty year extension New Zealand signed up to when it negotiated that free-trade deal with Britain last month: http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2021/10/labours-sneaky-copyright-deal.html.

Addendum: As per this article, it gets worse: https://www.newsroom.co.nz/the-national-library-loses-the-plot-again. Specifically, this section:

Another offer was made to the National Library to take its unwanted 600,000 books: from Warwick Jordan, the enterprising owner of second-hand bookstore Hard To Find. He told Reading Room, “We actually made a formal offer to the National Library to purchase all of the books. Our offer included purchasing the books, packing them and transporting them to Auckland where they would be put online and available to buy.

“In that scenario the books stayed in New Zealand and the library actually got money for the books and saved the cost of packing and shipping them (all together a substantial windfall for the taxpayer). Instead the National Library is shipping them all to the Philippines for the poverty-line labour cost. Ironic that this is being signed off on by a Labour Government.

“But frankly once they leave New Zealand who really knows where they will end up. It all sounds very PC but I’m not buying it. Regardless, the actual physical books will be lost to New Zealand forever. Why couldn’t they have been shipped back here after digitisation and I could then buy them and make them available to everyone? Probably because many if not all of them will end up in Philippines landfill.”

One must be cautious about opinion pieces like this, but honestly, the image of these literary treasures winding up in an overseas land-fill (having been digitalised by a low-wage workforce) is depressing as all hell. At least the original Vandals ran off with items they actually valued. The National Library of New Zealand – cloaking itself in appeals to national pride – is sending these books to an unmarked grave, and doing so in a manner that is eminently avoidable. Charming.

One thought on “(Lack of) Public Service Announcement: The National Library of New Zealand, Internet Archive, and Alleged Digital Piracy

  1. I really enjoy using ‘archive’ but this is a dreadful misuse of copyright by a government who do not own the right to share these works in this manner. And expecting authors and publishers to ‘opt-out’ is laughable. They simply do not have the right to do this and publishers should be threatening legal action. A government department is essentially acting as pirate here.

    Liked by 1 person

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