SPARC partnered with the Internet Archive to host a recent webinar that explored the concept of controlled digital lending – or CDL – as a strategy to expand library collections and increase accessibility. CDL offers a new model to make printed works available in digital form while protecting copyrighted material. As with other initiatives on the open agenda, it holds promise for broadening access to knowledge and leveling the playing field for information acquisition.
In 2017, the term controlled digital lending emerged from a position statement laying out the legal framework for the practice. With CDL, a library can lend out a digital copy of a book in place of a physical copy that it already owns. Only one user at a time can borrow the copy and digital rights management software protects the file from being redistributed.
Over the past 15 years, Internet Archive has worked with more than 500 libraries to digitize nearly 4 million books. Since most are in the public domain, they were easily published online without restrictions for use or reuse. CDL is an attempt to make works accessible that are still in copyright. Internet Archive first worked with Boston Public Library on a pilot to digitize and lend in-copyright books. The effort expanded into the Open Libraries program that has more than 1 million modern digitized books in its collection that can be borrowed – one at a time – by readers anywhere, explained the Director of Open Libraries Chris Freeland in the SPARC webcast.
“Everyone deserves to learn. Our goal is to build a research library with more than 4 million in-copyright books that we can make available for users all over the work,” said Freeland, noting 4 million is the size of an average metropolitan library collection. “We think everyone regardless of where they live should have access to a rich library.”
Now, more than 20 libraries in the United States and Canada are using the CDL model to provide users with an expanded array of digital works. This allows users in rural areas with limited transportation to check out books digitally. Students working late can access materials 24/7 and rare books previously not lent out are able to circulate safely in a digital form.
In this era of misinformation and fake news, Internet Archive is trying to enhance access to sources by connecting all links in Wikipedia to scanned books.
The U.S. legal theory that underpins CDL was crafted by Michelle Wu, associate dean for library services and professor of law at the Georgetown Law Library in Washington, D.C., who was the second speaker on the webinar. “Libraries are seeking to do exactly the same thing we do with our print materials – lend content that we purchased. We just want to do it in a different format,” said Wu, making the case that the practice has no greater market impact, under fair use analysis, than lending the original. “We are not lending any more copies than we own.”
Libraries interested in CDL can get involved in several ways: donate books to Internet Archive for reformatting, endorse the statement of CDL (as an individual or institution, join Open Libraries, or read about impact stories of CDL at the Internet Archive blog. CDL will be the focus of the Oct. 23 meeting in San Francisco of Library Leaders Forum 2019.