Marybeth Peters, head of the US Copyright Office (part of the Library of Congress), said this in her testimony before Congress yesterday:

The Copyright Office has been following the Google Library Project since 2003 with great interest. We first learned about it when Google approached the Library of Congress, seeking to scan all of the Library’s books. At that time, we advised the Library on the copyright issues relevant to mass scanning, and the Library offered Google the more limited ability to scan books that are in the public domain. An agreement did not come to fruition because Google could not accept the terms.

As discussed in my article in June, it seems surprising that the Library of Congress has not taken a more active role in the mass-scanning project that Google is doing. Peters’ words explain why — The copyright mess! If copyright gets fixed, LC might be doing the project instead of Google.

It’s encouraging that Peters has finally been given a platform to talk about the mess. She did talk about it at a Columbia University meeting in March, although it was not widely reported, and was apparently only recorded on a video which was not transcribed (see my transcription of a key passage here). At that conference, she’s reported to have said that Congress had shown no interest in hearing her testimony. Hopefully they’re ready to listen now.

Peters stresses in her testimony yesterday, and in her talk at Columbia, that Congress needs to be the one to fix copyright law. Letting the judiciary branch speak through the Settlement, she says, is making an “end run around the legislative process” — her words in yesterday’s testimony. Brewster Kahle used the same words in April.

With the GBS settlement discussion heating up, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that the root of the problem is US Copyright law. As Peters suggests, until copyright is fixed, mass-scanning of books is going to be problematic.

Eric Rumsey is on Twitter @ericrumsey

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