Indeed it contained all the articles from Vigiliae Christianae from the 1950′s which I was myself refused permission to scan! Amusingly it discusses a time ‘wall’ after which articles won’t appear, so that it doesn’t interfere with publishers’ revenue streams — of about 10 years before the present! This makes ironic reading for those of us afflicted by the copyright law: only material 70+ years old may appear. But of course it is good that they have found a way around that. It also highlights that the material protected by copyright law really is nearly all commercially worthless.
Clearly this system must have a huge impact on how people access information, if you can access it. It’s accurate, it’s searchable, the articles can be exported to PDF, and it’s fast. I did searches on “Severus Sebokht” (who gets relatively few mentions on google) and came up with a mass of recent and not-so-recent scholarly articles about him.
There are still limitations. The coverage of French and German serials was negligible; but I think that this will change, such is the obvious benefit to all of the system. Likewise I think that access will be broadened as time goes by, probably as central institutions buy access for all colleges in a country or something like that. It was interesting to learn that all educational establishments in Africa will be given free access. But I don’t think that the general public will ever get access, and I think that the period of non-inclusion will remain or extend. This allows publishers to sell their CDROMs.
So what will be the impact on the web? Why would anyone use amateur sites, when this is available? Likewise, what is the point of Project Gutenberg, the CCEL, indeed my own collection, if instead the books can all be downloaded in PDF? Well, this last is not yet the case. But the success of the Early English Books Online project (likewise inaccessible to the public, but free to all educational institutions in the UK at least) which does just this for all English printed books to 1700 means that the writing must be on the wall. A project to do the books to 1900 must be in proposal somewhere already, I would imagine.
As these sorts of projects become more mature, I think that we will see more attempts by publishers to push sites like my own offline using copyright law, so as to bring the whole dissemination of data under commercial control again. After all, all these projects involve fees, payments, revenue streams. They have completeness, and state-funding, so they are far more desirable than some amateur site full of typos. The publishers profit, the average student doesn’t care. But the publisher has thus a financial interest to ensure that only the approved site is used.
One thing is for sure, in 10 years time the internet will be a very different beast for people with our interests. We may all be much better informed (if we belong to one of the favoured groups with access). But the “Wild west” days of the internet will be over.