Norway Digitizing All Norwegian Books, Regardless of Copyright Status


credit: Hans-Petter-Fjeld-cc-by-sa

Norway is taking on a daunting and liberalizing task: It is creating a digital collection of all the nation's books, newspapers, television broadcasts, and every other piece of media they can get their hands on. Significantly, even copyrighted materials will become more accessible.

The National Library of Norway, located in Oslo and operating under the Ministry of Culture, hopes to create a digital "memory bank by providing a multimedia knowledge centre focusing on archiving and distribution," and provide easy access to "many different types of content ranging from the Middle Ages through to the present day." The organization's website adds that "the digital objects are enriched with metadata and sustainable identifiers which will increase the opportunities for archiving, use and reuse over the next millennium."

The library has already digitized an estimated 235,000 books, 240,000 pages of handwritten manuscripts, 4,000 posters, 740,000 hours of radio, 310,000 hours of television, 7,000 films, 7,000 records, and 8,000 audiotapes. Still, officials anticipate it will take 20-30 years to become current on the task.

Anybody in the world can read and download works that are not covered by copyright. To some extent, works still protected by copyright will also be accessible. Although Business Insider and The Verge report that any copyrighted will be accessible if one is using a Norwegian IP address, that does not seem to be exactly accurate. Rather, specifically 20th century copyrighted works will require the appropriate address.

What about documents from the 21st century? "The entire digital collection shall be available for research and documentation on the National Library of Norway's premises," according to the official library website.

The role of copyright laws, their implementation, and their abuses are contestable subjects. Norway's program does not provide a perfect solution or route there. The fact that "the Norwegian Legal Deposit Act requires that all published content, in all media, be deposited with the National Library of Norway" may rightfully irk those who would rather not be coerced by their government.

Still, The Atlantic's Alexis C. Madrigal humorously suggests that this archive ensures Norway's culture a certain longevity over America's in case of an apocalyptic event.

Tech writer Glyn Moody offers a more serious approval of Norway's move and gives his opinion on the problems of many current copyright laws. He writes for Techdirt:

Excessive copyright… not only prevents today's artists from building on the work of their recent forebears—something that occurred routinely until intellectual monopolies were introduced in recent centuries—but it even jeopardizes the preservation and transmission of entire cultures because of publishers' refusal to allow copyright to move with the times by permitting large-scale digitization and distribution of the kind envisaged in Norway.

Reason's own Nick Gillespie, Jesse Walker, and others have covered the cumbersome issue of copyrights as well.