Can Our Culture Be Saved? The Future of Digital Archiving

61 Pages Posted: 27 Jul 2006

Date Written: July 25, 2006


The enormous interest and controversy generated by the Google Library project demonstrates three important points. First, the potential of digitization as a way to preserve works to prevent their loss and destruction is tremendous. Second, the potential of digitization as a way to given access to what is preserved without regard to a user's physical location is also both tremendously exciting and, from the copyright owner's perspective, horrifically threatening. Third, copyright as it is currently designed is likely to be a serious barrier to meaningful experimentation with new methods of preservation and access.

This article steps behind the Google Library controversy to examine in depth what the enormous public benefits that would flow from allowing a broad right of digitization for preservation purposes, and why such a right by necessity would require changes in existing copyright law. It also then asks whether we can realistically hope to save the fragile embodiments of our cultural life this way without making some provision for public access to the databases in which works are preserved. Finally, the article attempts to identify what the public-regarding goals of digital archiving for purposes of preservation should be, the responsibilities that would attach to the right to archive, and the kinds of compromises between the interests of the copyright owning community and the public that might be feasible to enable citizens of the world to create and protect their modern version of the Library of Alexandria.

Keywords: digitization, preservation, access, Google

JEL Classification: K29, K39

Suggested Citation

Zimmerman, Diane Leenheer, Can Our Culture Be Saved? The Future of Digital Archiving (July 25, 2006). NYU Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 06-23, Available at SSRN: or

Diane Leenheer Zimmerman (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

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Room 322, Vanderbilt Hall
New York, NY 10012-1099
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