The Google Book Search initiative has generated legal opposition from two influential writer and publisher groups, yet the issue has largely been confined to the U.S., since the U.S. fair use approach stands in marked contrast to the fair dealing user right found in Canada. While Google is unlikely to launch a similar program in Canada until our laws change, Memorial University in Newfoundland is considering a digitization program that raises the same legal issues. The CBC reports that the University is considering a plan to make many of its holdings available to the public over the Internet in order to make Newfoundland's culture and heritage freely available to everyone.
Such an initiative would do wonders for the exposure of provincial authors, yet they are adopting a position that echoes the views of their U.S. counterparts. The President of the Writers' Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador has expressed concern that the plan will make it harder to sell books. The University appears to have quickly backtracked, indicating that the proposal is in its early stages and that no books would be digitized without permission. Of course, there is no need to backtrack that far – surely many of the books are in the public domain and require no permission for digitization. For those books still under copyright, the writers are free to adopt their position, though one can't help but speculate (as Tim O'Reilly has) that a digitization program would lift many books out of obscurity and result in greater sales. In my view, further evidence that rather than focusing on protections for DRM, we would do far better to turn our attention to shifting from fair dealing to fair use.