Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Good news Canadiana & LAC project spun into bad news?

For the past few years I've worked at a charity called Canadiana where we research, digitize, add metadata to and provide access to Canadian works in the public domain (IE: *finally* out of our excessively long Copyright term in Canada) for researchers.  While most of our funding comes from educational institutions, we have also had individual members and donors who help fund our work.  While it would be great if this work were paid for by the government and all this information made searchable and accessible immediately free to all Canadians, this hasn't happened so a charity is the next best option.

It's a great place to work.  While I am a technical person, many of my co-workers are librarians and our board of directors are also largely librarians.  I joke with people about how "scary" my employer is, and feel guilty when fellow techies tell me horror stories about some of their corporate employers.

Imagine my surprise when the media claimed I was working for some "private high-tech consortium" involved in a "hush-hush deal" with Library and Archives Canada to try to put Canadian heritage behind a paywall.   I've spent more than half my life fighting against schemes like that, joining the Free Software movement in the early 1990's and spending the last decade+ fighting Copyright maximalists who want to not only lock up our culture but infringe our IT property rights in the process.  I know all about secret back-room deals to lock up culture, and they go with acronyms such as ACTA, SOPA, TPP, and so-on.   As someone who has spent so much time opposing such ideas, I obviously wouldn't work for some "private high-tech consortium" involved in such a scheme.

I'm not sure how or why someone spun a good-news story into its opposite, but what I know of the new project with LAC is very different than how some have mistakenly reported it.

Everything we are doing is in addition to existing methods of access.  The collection will remain accessible from the LAC as it always has.  There is no pay-wall for this project's digital content, and as the collections are digitized they will be freely accessible on Canadiana's website -- making them far more accessible than travelling to the LAC offices as people have to do today.  This is in addition to the fact that our complete collection is available through most educational institution and public libraries, with these libraries providing us funding to make all our collections accessible to their patrons.  If you haven't seen our collections already, please ask your librarian about it and take a look!

Much of the work we do is involved with metadata, or data about the pages we scan and put online.  It is this metadata which allows the information to be searchable.  Given the amount of work, this is where the bulk of the expenses are.   While public funding would be great (!!), the reality is that this type of work ends up needing to be funded through other means including having individual and institutional members fund this metadata. The more charitable donations and memberships we get, the better the metadata and access.   This stuff doesn't come cheap, but given we are a charity the goal isn't to make some profit but to make the information as accessible to as many Canadians as we possibly can.

I wish reporters had done a bit more research into what Canadiana was before accepting someone's spin of the new project we will be doing with LAC.  I suspect their goal might be to trip up the government of the day, but the people who will pay the costs of misunderstandings are Canadians who will end up with less access to our heritage if these types of projects fall through.

If reporters want to talk about locking up our heritage with secret deals they should look into things like ACTA, as well as asking their own employers and unions (PWAC/TWUC, etc) their views on things such as copyright term extension which is where the real threats are coming from.

Update: A colleague has posted something official to our website.

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