I promised in my post on the Open Content Alliance/Boston Public Library consortium agreement to post some comments on it. Here they are.
First, there is no question that the agreement is one of the most open, if not the most open, digitization agreements yet released. I particularly like that there are almost no restrictions on the use that the IA can make of the scans, and no restrictions on the use that individuals and groups other than the IA can make. Still, there are a number of interesting elements in the agreement.
The partners to the agreement are one interesting element. I had mistakenly referred to this as an agreement with the Boston Library Consortium (BLC). It is instead an agreement with just the Boston Public Library, a BLC member.
More interesting, while the agreement has been described in the news as an Open Content Alliance (OCA) project, the actual agreement is with the Internet Archive (IA), acting on behalf of the OCA. There are suggestions on the OCA web site that that the OCA might be its own organization (for example, that it will be "governed by representatives of contributing organizations," with the IA merely administering it). The agreement, however, would seem to indicate that OCA is merely one more project of IA, not one of the community-generated and governed organizations familiar to libraries.
Of course, who gets copies of the images does not really matter since anyone else in the world (including the big commercial companies such as Google or Microsoft) can also get copies of the books from either the IA or BPL web sites; there are no restrictions on commercial use. This is radically different than the commercial digitization projects. BPL can never tell IA to remove its images, but there is nothing to stop BPL from offering them to an academic cooperative if it wanted. When things are completely open, does it matter if the OCA is a front man for IA?
BPL's openness is a new direction for them. The books that they are digitizing come from John Adams's personal library. There is no indication on the web site for the library that there are any use restrictions on the transcripts and digitized books already created with IMLS funding, but the web site for BPL's Rare Book Collection (where the Adams Library is housed) has this to say on use of material found there:
Special arrangements are required and appropriate fees charged for further reproduction, publication, or commercial use of the Library's materials.
Apparently BPL is dropping this requirement for the digitized material. One wonders if it will be dropped for the use of other material in its holdings.
One curious item: the BPL is requiring, and IA will respect, the inclusion of a digital bookplate identifying the volume as coming from the BPL. This information is also supposed to be included in the metadata. While the IA cannot remove this information "from any digital copy under any circumstances," there is nothing to stop any 3rd party (such as Amazon or Google) from downloading the 3500 books and stripping it out; they are not subject to the terms of this agreement. One wonders, however, if the BPL is expecting IA to create terms and conditions for its web site (or maybe even a DRM system) that would prevent this. Otherwise, it is unclear why one would require the inclusion of the bookplate only in IA's copy.
BPL is supposed to make available MARC records from its catalog or from "RLG." This raises the always interesting question of who owns catalog records...
It is interesting that the BPL has elected to have some its most valuable rare books scanned on IA's Scribe machines. High-volume production scanning of rare books has been a controversial topic. Some rare book libraries have concluded that Kirtas's robotic scanners can safely handle many rare books, and others rely on human-turned pages - though usually as part of a slow, "boutique" scanning operation. Let's hope we get reports on the success and the costs of this operation.
Finally, let's stop suggesting that these OCA initiatives, as desirable as they might be, are somehow an alternative to the Google and Microsoft digitization agreements. This agreement is for the scanning of up to 3500 volumes. Some of the Google projects are reportedly doing almost that much each day. Let' not compare apples and oranges.
UPDATE: Mary pointed out to me a very comprehensive guide to large scale digitization agreements created and maintained by OCLC.