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Book theft, EU copyright, and Kafka.

When thousands of rare books were stolen from the Girolamini Library in Naples, Italy, in 2012, it exemplified the scale that rare book thefts can reach. (See "Getting Away With History" in the November 2013 issue of Information Today.) Following a recent conference in London, efforts to curb the trade in stolen rare books and manuscripts should intensify.

The British Library-hosted event, The Written Heritage of Mankind in Peril: Theft, Retrieval, Sale and Restitution of Rare Books, Maps and Manuscripts, featured presentations by various luminaries of the rare book world, including the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers' (ILAB) president, Norbert Donhofer. He told attendees that ILAB will up its game in a bid to put the brakes on stolen rare books trafficking.

In 2003, ILAB created a database of stolen books. It now comprises a list that's open to the public and a list for rare book dealers. The public list gives details of stolen books, while the dealers' list provides more information, including the circumstances surrounding the thefts. The database contains about 1,700 entries, mostly of single books, but also of some collections, each valued from a few hundred to tens of thousands of euros.

But, said Donhofer, "The enormous increase of spectacular thefts which have happened during the past years made it clear that ILAB had to do more than [run] a stolen book database. As soon as we get any information about a theft we try nowadays to get in contact with the damaged library and offer our help to bring light into the affair." This is all well and good, but what else is ILAB doing?

Initially, it seems that, post-conference, the focus will be on cooperating with other interested bodies in the creation of bigger, better databases that contain details of stolen works. Donhofer says ILAB and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) "are currently considering a number of initiatives based on the recent London conference. We will also start to talk to the Consortium of European Research Libraries ... [and] representatives from 'The Art Loss Register' ... to consider the possibilities of merging our Stolen Books Database with their Databases." Another idea is to allow the Art Loss Register to list full descriptions of stolen rare books that are valued at more than 1,000 [pounds sterling] (about $1,555) each, although this is still at the discussion stage.

ILAB would also like to form a joint committee with IFLA that would discuss and consider actions relating to rare book thefts. Donhofer says he is "optimistic" that this will be in place by the end of the year. Next year should see a follow-up conference in New York, but details of the time, place, and agenda have yet to be finalized.

Copyright Reform

Later this year, the European Union (EU) copyright reform bandwagon should roll a little further as the EU seeks to create a unified regime across the 28-member-state body. Concrete proposals from the European Commission (EC), the EU's executive body, are expected soon.

The European Parliament (EP) recently voted to adopt a report by Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Julia Reda. It recommended that--among other things--the EU should formulate rules for copyright exceptions that would benefit libraries and researchers using text and data mining (TDM). But IFLA is concerned that the EU adopted a position on copyright exceptions at the World Intellectual Property Organization's Standing Committee on Copyright Related Rights (WIPO SCCR) meeting that stands at odds with Reda's recommendations.

IFLA president Sinikka Sipila says, "The vote of the EP demonstrates that the EC and EP have recognized the challenges that a national system of copyright can create. Yet, at the same time that they are inviting discussions of certain harmonized requirements and exceptions within the EU, the European delegation at WIPO SCCR said that the EU and its member states believe that a legally binding instrument in this area (exceptions) is not required and cannot be supported."

IFLA would like to see an international instrument for copyright exceptions and limitations. We'll have to await the EC's copyright proposals to see if there'll be an EU-wide one.

The legal status of TDM looks as if it will be a particularly hard bone of contention for the EC to chew on during its copyright reform deliberations. LIBER (Association of European Research Libraries) wants copyright exceptions to be applied to TDM, while scholarly publishing association STM asserts that current licensing regimes offered by publishers meet researchers' needs.

The Trial Resolved

Meanwhile, there is good news for those interested in the life and works of enigmatic writer Franz Kafka. The National Library of Israel (NLI) should now be working its way through the archive of his papers and correspondence compiled and held by his friend Max Brod, which fell into the hands of the Hoffe family after Brod's death in 1968. A recent ruling by the Tel Aviv District Court ordered Eva Hoffe to hand over the archive to the NLI. Her mother was Brod's secretary.

Aviad Stollman, NLI's head of collections, says the archive includes handwritten letters from Kafka to Brod, plus manuscripts of works such as the short story "A Country Doctor" and the uncompleted Wedding Preparations in the Country. "It must be assumed that many other treasures are hidden among Max Brod's personal papers, all of which will be discovered through the professional organizing and recording to be carried out by the National Library of Israel team of archive experts," says Stollman. "We will, without infringing intellectual property rights, make the archive publically accessible on the internet, for scholars and the general public.... [A]t this stage, we know very little about the archive and its contents...."

Digital Culture

Finally, the University of Oxford's Bodleian Libraries launched its Digital. Bodleian portal. It has 100,000 images, including illustrated manuscripts and Victorian board games, that can be downloaded for noncommercial use. Researchers downloading these images will be able to make comments and annotations on them and to share them on social media.

Bodleian Libraries claims that the resource is "unique" in its content--well, that's a given--and has an "easy-to-use interface" and a single entry point that allows cross-collection searching. It also says it is the "first web resource of its kind" to allow users to make a side-by-side comparison of images.

Links to the Source

Norbert Donhofer's conference presentation

European Parliament and copyright reform

Digital.Bodleian portal

John Charlton writes about technology, law, and education for several publications. Send your comments about this column to
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Author:Charlton, John
Publication:Information Today
Date:Sep 1, 2015
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