10 January 2011

Proceedings of the International Symposium on Enhancing the Culture of Reading and Books in the Digital Age now available!

Stuart Hamilton, IFLA Senior Policy Advisor 

Tokyo Symposium participants

At the end of 2010 IFLA, in association with the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO), the International Publishers Association (IPA), the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and the National Diet Library of Japan (NDL) held a two day symposium on enhancing the culture of reading in the digital age. The conference took place at the National Diet Library in Tokyo, and more than 100 participants attended the sessions over both days where they heard over twenty presentations and keynotes from Dr Makoto Nagao, Librarian of the National Diet Library, and Levy Hideo, the first westerner to write fiction in Japanese.

This event was notable for the subject and the partners involved. Librarians, publishers and rightsholders have an entwined, often complex relationship that can often see opposing points of view in many areas - legal deposit, copyright, or the pricing of journal subscriptions to name but a few. On the other hand, all of us have a firm belief in the value of reading and the act of reading in pursuit of knowledge. This shared belief framed the symposium, and the sessions were crafted to let all sectors present their viewpoints with enough space for frank discussion between presenters and the audience.

IFLA President Ellen Tise

The conference was structured so that a recap of current international copyright legal frameworks was given at the outset to provide a backdrop to rest of the presentations. Sequential sessions discussed the value of copyright to society, ways of providing access to copyright works, literacy and reading, digitisation, and access to works for the visually impaired. Finishing things off on the final afternoon was an hour and a half open panel where all of the partners attempted to turn the prior discussions into some potential areas for co-operation.

From the perspective of all presenters, new services and the management of user expectations will be key to our continued existence in the digital age. For example, how are publishers going to continue with their traditional business in an age of easily shareable e-books? How will libraries fulfil their obligations regarding cultural preservation when copyright systems are not flexible enough for the range of preservation and dissemination activities that we could now employ? Will both sectors be able to provide these services in time to retain our current users, and the next generation of people who wish to access information through libraries and bookstores?

Over the two days it was clear that the pace of change in the digital era was a challenge for all of the participants. For example, the publishers were frank about how their business models are in trouble and how they feel that users of digital materials–libraries included–are not prepared to pay the true costs of what their products cost to produce. The public perception that digital products are cheaper to produce is seriously impairing their ability to cover their costs. Library representatives, in response, clearly detailed their problems with digital rights management, extremely expensive journal subscriptions and unscrupulous publishers, and the need for a copyright exceptions and limitations regime that is fit for purpose in the digital age. The rightsholders' organisations cautioned that compulsory legislative solutions to the problems on the table reduced flexibility and their ability to offer adaptable licensing services.

Speakers at the Tokyo Symposium

In the end there was hard and fast agreement in only one area—that co-operation will be far more productive than opposition, and essential if libraries and publishers are to flourish in the age of e-books and digital access. However, in all of the sessions the concluding panel discussion always seemed to find at least one topic on which there was a place to co-operate—for example, all of the organisations felt that prioritising a solution for the digitisation of orphan works was essential and possible soon, perhaps through the utilisation of the extended collective licensing models used in Scandinavia, or a similar mechanism.

The event was therefore a good start towards a clearer identification of where productive co-operation might take place. As Winston Tabb, the Chair of the CLM Committee stated, librarians, publishers, RROs, and policy-makers often convene in separate venues to complain about what the others are doing, but in Tokyo we were forced to engage each other—something which will hopefully happen more often in the future.

If this piece has interested you, then it's time to read a bit deeper. We are very happy to be able to share with you, courtesy of the National Diet Library website, the papers and slides of all of the presenters who featured in Tokyo. I hope that by reading what the participants had to say you will feel more aware of the current forces at work in the digital age of reading, and will be better able to understand how libraries, publishers and rightsholders can work together to increase access to knowledge.

Proceedings of the Tokyo symposium: ‘Enhancing the Culture of Reading and Books in the Digital Age: Copyright as Means to Foster Creativity and Access''

CLM (Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters), Reading, Cultural heritage, Copyright, Access to knowledge, Access to information, Japan

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