Murdoch rails against British Library

James Murdoch attacked the British Library’s plans to digitize their several hundred year old, 40m page archive in a speech yesterday. The archive will be available online, but only as a for pay service.  Here is an excerpt the Guardian:

“This is not simply being done for posterity, nor to make free access for library users easier, but also for commercial gain via a paid for website. The move is strongly opposed by major publishers. If it goes ahead, free content would not only be a justification for more funding, but actually become a source of funds for a public body.”

Speaking after the speech Murdoch said he was not planning any immediate action against the British Library but stressed “from the publishing industry’s point of view we are very, very concerned about some of the approaches that they seem to be taking. But at the same time there is a dialogue with the library about it.”

“The copyright holder needs to be part and parcel of determining how further exploitation digitally is conducted and that really has to be the centre of this,” he said. The worry for News International, of course, is that the British Library’s move could undermine its paid-for content model. “It’s not to say that there is a big fight here: what there is, is a question right now is: they are looking at those assets and asking ‘how do I do these things’ and they would like to reach as many people as possible, and rights holders are saying ‘hang on a minute’.”

He has a point, but I disagree about the real problem. As I see it, the real issue is that in the UK you’ve created these vast taxpayer funded, quasi governmental, non-for-profit organizations who then go out and compete with commercial enterprises. Take the BBC, for example. Do you remember how some were upset when the BBC announced the free news apps? This is more of the same.

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Luqman21 May, 2010

    I don’t see a problem with it all. It might offend market fundamentalists who worship at the altar of Wall Street, but as long as the quality services are being provided and those footing the bill (i.e. British Tax Payers) approve, I see this is as a triumph of an alternative model to the Neo-Liberal Faith (TM). The BBC offers a better quality product than Sky does. I mean, seriously, who the heck bothers with the latter when you can watch Dr. Who and Torchwood on the former?

    1. Nate the great25 May, 2010

      If a company has to fight to make a profit against someone who doesn’t care if he makes a profit, then there is a good chance that he will drop that endeavor and go do something else. Then there would be only the one party in the endeavor: the gov’t.

      1. Mary25 May, 2010

        But who is the company trying to make a profit from digitizing these? Having the private sector do this is fine, but we really haven’t seen many publishers move into this market. Or if some have moved in, they have poor content and/or bad interfaces and/or they don’t support customers very well.

        Putting these newspaper into the public access realm means the private sector might be able to concentrate on the packaging that these newspapers are made available. Better search options — fewer restrictions on access — more integration with other sources, for instance. There is plenty to digitize, so we need lots of organizations (for-profit and not-for-profit) to tackle this!

        1. Nate the great25 May, 2010

          But the problem here is that the content won’t be in the public realm. The British Library is putting it behind a paywall. That changes everything.


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