Newman! World Digital Library Misses Legal Opportunity

So when I first encountered the WDL, I was excited. I did, however, have a lingering question about the intellectual property laws involved. I scanned the page and found the infamous Legal link at the bottom of the page. I clicked. And then the moment of “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” vanished. Newman!

Although the WDL embraces open source ideals, it appears to have gone away from them in its approach to the possible intellectual property rights claims behind the material. So rather than facilitating a centralized clearing function before placing the materials online the WDL begins the legal rigmarole with”

General Disclaimer

The World Digital Library (WDL), hosted by The Library of Congress and on mirror sites, provides links to its partner organization Web sites. Each partner is responsible for the content of its Web site. If you have any questions regarding the content or policies of these Web sites, please contact the partner directly.

The pain continues:

About Copyright and the Collections

Content found on the WDL Web site is contributed by WDL partners. Copyright questions about partner content should be directed to that partner. When publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in a WDL partner’s collections, the researcher has the obligation to determine and satisfy domestic and international copyright law or other use restrictions.

You can find out more information about copyright law in the World Intellectual Property Organization’s member states at

Perhaps I am missing the complex nature of setting up this effort. Still, given the amount of effort the WDL has taken to assemble these cultural items, establish technology specifications that should allow the site to scale and reveal interesting connections between items, and the commitment to multilingual presentation so the “WDL [comes] closer to the goal of being truly universal,” the approach to intellectual property baffles me.

One might guess that it is a nod to cultural interests. Nonetheless, some sort of clear licensing or rights indication would at least let people know what they can or can’t do. Tossing users into the world of “each partner country has rules, go figure it out” runs contrary to the WDL’s otherwise laudable goals. Again I hope there is a coherent back story to the choice. For now, however, I doubt it.

You may also like...

3 Responses

  1. Bruce Boyden says:

    This isn’t much different than a regular library though, right? A regular library doesn’t typically clear rights for you, it just gives you access to the materials.

  2. Deven says:

    Come on, Bruce. This sort of project could do it. AND it is opening up materials in ways that are quite new. If they are taking the time to do all this work with the tags, why not tag with the rights info?

  3. Bubba says:

    Sounds pretty challenging to satisfy your idea of disclaimers & rights. Especially considering that to do this your way might place more hurdles in front of partners. Perhaps WDL needs blanket statements like the one their using because that’s what the partners requested; or perhaps they just want to make it easy for partners to get content on the site. Either way, though, this site will pose a hard to enforce premise for partners & ‘customers.’