From Hypatia to Victor Hugo to Larry and Sergey: 'All the world's knowledge' and universal authors' rights

by Jane C. Ginsburg

14 Apr 2016
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Full text of article by Jane C. Ginsburg posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 1, pp. 71-94.

Abstract: Access to ‘all the world’s knowledge’ is an ancient aspiration; a less venerable, but equally vigorous, universalism strives for the borderless protection of authors’ rights. Late 19th-century law and politics brought us copyright universalism; 21st-century technology may bring us the universal digital library. But how can ‘all the world’s knowledge’ be delivered, on demand, to users anywhere in the world (with Internet access), if the copyrights of the creators and publishers of many of those works are supposed to be enforceable almost everywhere in the world? Does it follow that the universal digital library of the near future threatens copyright holders? Or are libraries the endangered species of the impending era, as publishers partner with for-profit Internet intermediaries to make books ubiquitously available? Does access-triumphalism therefore risk giving us not the universal digital library, but the universal digital bookstore? And, whether libraries or commercial intermediaries offer access, how will the world’s authors fare?

Keywords: authorship, copyright, digital libraries, orphan works, universalism, utopianism.

British Academy Law Lecture, read 11 December 2012 (audio recording)

Text printed 2014 in British Academy Lectures 2012-13

Version of article available in British Academy Scholarship Online (HTML)

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