Buying our way out of the copyright dilemna?

A post on BoingBoing led me to this email from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. In it, Wales asks for:

…some examples of works you would like to see made free, works that we are not doing a good job of generating free replacements for, works that could in theory be purchased and freed.

Dream big. Imagine there existed a budget of $100 million to purchase copyrights to be made available under a free license. What would you like to see purchased and released under a free license?

The ensuing conversation gets pretty free-ranging, with people drifting off-topic to say what else they’d like to do with $100M (say, digitizing all of out of copyright works, or creating and maintaining specialized encyclopedias). Then there’s a backlash — why would we reward copyright holders with money, when they are in essence locking up intellectual heritage? Why not use the money to fund lobbying efforts to change copyright law instead? And so on.

The question as initially posed is very interesting. If this opportunity was given to the research library community, and if we had a very short time frame in which to answer, how would we respond, and what criteria would we use? Circulation data? Holdings data? Audience level? Has the work been digitized?

Copyright was identified as one of the top challenges for discovery and delivery in our RLG Partners workshop in September, and will most likely be discussed in our upcoming symposium in March.

Summary notes from the workshop are now up, as is a draft agenda for the symposium (still subject to change, based on input from a program committee!).