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Magazines > Information Today > September 2018

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Information Today
Vol. 35 No. 7 — September 2018
We Can Work It Out
by John Charlton

Paul McCartney says in an open letter, "We need an Internet that is fair and sustainable for all."
September will see the latest twist in the long and winding road that is European copyright reform as the matter once more comes before the European Parliament (EP). After howls of anguish from the anti and pro sides of more copyright protection for rightsholders’ works on the web, the EP recently gave the thumbs down to reviewing a directive passed by its legal affairs committee. A particular area of contention is Article 13, which proposes that platforms such as Google and Facebook would be compelled to filter out copyright-infringing material. It would give license holders more power and, perhaps, more income.

Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney—not short of the odd penny—says in an open letter, “We need an Internet that is fair and sustainable for all. But today some User Upload Content platforms refuse to compensate artists and all music creators fairly for their work, while they exploit it for their own profit.” In another open letter, technology luminaries, including Jimmy Wales and Tim Berners-Lee, say, “By requiring Internet platforms to perform automatic filtering [of all] of the content that their users upload, Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.”

Reading Can Be Dangerous

You never know what you’ll find when examining old books. But poison? That’s what researchers at the University of Southern Denmark discovered recently when they decided to X-ray three books from the 16th and 17th centuries held in the school’s library.

In an article for The Conversation, authors Jakob Povl Holck, a research librarian, and Kaare Lund Rasmussen, an associate physics, chemistry, and pharmacy professor, say, “The reason why we took these three rare books to the X-ray lab was because the library had previously discovered that medieval manuscript fragments, such as copies of Roman law and canonical law, were used to make their covers. It is well documented that European bookbinders in the 16th and 17th centuries used to recycle older parchments.

“We tried to identify the Latin texts used, or at least read some of their content. But then we found that the Latin texts in the covers of the three volumes were hard to read because of an extensive layer of green paint which obscures the old handwritten letters.”

The X-ray analysis revealed that the green stuff was arsenic, which was commonly used in various materials, including paint, before its danger was recognized in the second half of the 19th century. Holck and Rasmussen say that the “three poisonous volumes” are now stored “in separate cardboard boxes with safety labels in a ventilated cabinet.” They plan to digitize their contents “to minimise physical handling.”

Norway-Nigeria Team-Up?

Elsewhere in Scandinavia, the National Library of Norway may undertake the digitization of Nigerian works written in Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo. A report on Nigeria News Today quotes Jens- Petter Kjemprud, the Norwegian ambassador to Nigeria, as saying he hoped that an agreement would be signed in June.

But Nina Mari Braein, the National Library of Norway’s head of press, is rather more guarded, saying, “I am afraid we are still in an early phase, working on a memorandum of understanding. Hence it is not possible for us to give any detailed answers. …”

Audiobooks Soar

In the U.K., figures from industry body the Publishers Association (PA) indicate that audiobook downloads are powering ahead. The PA says sales of audiobooks in 2017 were up 22% over the previous year, at £31 million (about $41 million).

“Audiobooks remain the fastest growing area in digital publishing with publishers reporting sales more than doubling (+148%) since 2013,” according to the PA. “The statistics reinforce the growth shown in Nielsen’s recent 2017 UK Books and Consumer Survey, which show that 5.7 million people had bought or listened to an audiobook across all formats (CD, tape, download or streaming) in the last 12 months—an increase of 7% on 2014.”

Stays and Stories

Once upon a time, the only book provided in nearly all hotels in the West was a Gideon Bible. Now, one small chain is upping its game. The Grace Hotels Group, which owns chi-chi hotels in Greece, Argentina, and the U.S., recently started offering short stories to paying guests from the Short Story Project, a Tel Aviv, Israel-based operation whose online platform features short stories in 40 different languages.

Users are given a brief summary of each title plus the length of time, in minutes, that it will take to read it. Stories are by authors such as H.G. Wells, D.H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, and Wilhelm Hauff. (His story is “Dwarf Nose.” I can’t wait to read that one.)

Grace Hotels’ guests will be offered access to audio as well as text for 1 month. They also get the added joy of being able to select from a Grace Picks list, which, says a press release, features stories “inspired by” destinations associated with the hotel chain’s locations. “The Short Story Project offers the perfect antidote to the increasingly frantic tempo at which we seem to live our lives,” says Alison Styles, group commercial director for Grace Hotels. Amen to that.

Links to the Source

European Parliament press releases on copyright rules

Paul McCartney’s open letter to the European Parliament

Technologists’ open letter to the European Parliament

University of Southern Denmark’s poisonous books

Nigerian literature digitization at the National Library of Norway

The Publishers Association’s press release on audiobooks

Grace Hotels-Short Story Project press release

John Charlton writes about technology, law, and education for several publications. Send your comments about this article to