Google Meets Harry Potter — Well Not Quite!

Nearly midnight on Saturday evening two weeks ago I was given a personal tour of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. I was at my cousin’s birthday party in the Divinity School, which was used as the infirmary in Harry Potter’s films – the Duke Humfrey’s Library was used as the Hogwarts library in the same films.

The Bodleian is one of the six (and was the first) copyright libraries in the UK.  A copyright library is entitled to one of the first copies of every published work in UK, including manuscripts, books, journals, DVDs, CDs, film, etc.  The library was opened in 1488, although a separate university library had existed since 1320.  Following the usual local skirmishes in Europe at the time, Thomas Bodley rescued the library.  It was Bodley who negotiated the “copyright library” concept. Today the library has four million items and is rapidly expanding.

Google is digitizing the total Bodleian collection following a 2006 agreement.  It will be a long process, especially given the fragility of so much of the collection. They would appear to have scanned half a million titles already. Google is also digitizing national libraries in other countries.

The attendant copyright issues are now surfacing, now that politicians seem to have thought a bit more about the wisdom of this move.  On the one hand one can see the attractions of having the world’s information online and having a massive digital library.  But under guises of differing arguments, reactions are developing in the capitals of Europe.

Germany’s Angela Merkel has said that her government is opposed to this development, and the Paris courts have entered the fray on behalf of authors.

Now that the new EU structures are in place, one can see this becoming a major EU issue. The UK has already called for increased international cooperation in copyright matters.  This has the making of a major copyright and commercial issue for all parties.

Its unlikely that Harry Potter can help and meet Google back in the Bodleian Library, but a bit of his magic may be required to solve the emerging issues in an acceptable timescale for commercial interest.

Bill Jones is CEO of Global Village Ltd.

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