The National Library of Norway is planning to digitize all the books by the mid 2020s. Yes. All. The. Books. In Norwegian, at least. Hundreds of thousands of them. Every book in the library’s holdings.
Now, in any normal country — where “normal” means one in which copyright has reached the heights of monopolistic insanity — if those books were still under copyright, the digitized versions (assuming publishers even allowed them to be made in the first place) would probably only be available in a specially constructed room deep in the basement of the National Library on a (small) screen, and with guards stationed either side of it to ensure that no unauthorized copies were made. Here, by contrast, is what’s happening with the National Library of Norway’s digital collection:
If you happen to be in Norway, as measured by your IP address, you will be able to access all 20th-century works, even those still under copyright. Non-copyrighted works from all time periods will be available for download.
As Alexis C. Madrigal points out in his entertaining article for The Atlantic, there’s a rather interesting consequence of the different approaches to book digitization taken by Norway and the US, say:
Imagine digital archaeologists coming across the remains of early 21st century civilization in an old data center on the warming tundra. They look around, find some scraps of Buzzfeed and The Atlantic, maybe some Encyclopaedia Britannicas, and then, gleaming in the data: a complete set of Norwegian literature.
Suddenly, the Norwegians become to 27th-century humans what the Greeks were to the Renaissance. Everyone names the children of the space colonies Per and Henrik, Amalie and Sigrid. The capital of our new home planet will be christened Oslo.
This is what excessive copyright does to countries that impose it. It not only prevents today’s artists from building on the work of their recent forebears — something that occurred routinely until intellectual monopolies were introduced in recent centuries — but it even jeopardizes the preservation and transmission of entire cultures because of publishers’ refusal to allow copyright to move with the times by permitting large-scale digitization and distribution of the kind envisaged in Norway.