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SLIS Takes Leading Role In Digital Music Library Project

Andrew Dillon
SLIS Network, Alumni Newsletter, Fall 2000

Mention the phrase "digital music," and many people think of Napster, the controversial, headline-grabbing Web site that allows computer users to copy music for no fee.

At IU, "digital music" conjures up a different image that of a library which will open a new world of teaching and learning to scholars and students of music.

The National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities have awarded $3 million to IU to expand its fledgling digital music library.Researchers from SLIS, the School of Music, the University Libraries, and the Office of the Vice President for Information Technologies will participate in the project.

The four-year grant provides funding for the development of a digital music library testbed, applications for education and research in music, and software tools and applications. The grant also will be used to explore the intricacies of music-related intellectual property rights, which have jeopardized the existence of Napster and other digital music enterprises.

SLIS Associate Professor Andrew Dillon will lead the usability portion of the project, learning how to build a system that will meet the needs of users and help them navigate complicated, connected information spaces. [See additional SLIS NEWs story links below.]

"There's nothing in use now like this," Dillon says. "What's planned is extremely ambitious."

The library will link various kinds of media, such as images, text, annotated scores, and video, allowing the user to carry out such activities as producing multimedia projects, listening to sound recordings while looking at a computerized score notation, or improvising a new part on a computerized music keyboard.

"The system creates a library experience that is no longer passive but active. It enables learners to create their own output," Dillon explains. "Much as in the old days library users would use a book to help develop a project, we're hoping people can use resources online and create a multimedia package."

Dillon says other institutions are building digital libraries, but they are lacking a crucial element.

"My criticism of other projects has always been that they are exercises in technical development they somehow digitize a library by making the archives no longer paper," Dillon says. "In my view, that's a nave, technocratic approach.

"The technical issues are important, but the big question is how to make massive amounts of information on your desktop usable in a way that is enriching and not frustrating. What sets our project apart is its concentration on making it usable what it will mean for learning and teaching. My role is to ensure that whatever we build meets the requirements for good design."

Kenneth Crews, SLIS professor and director of the Copyright Management Center at IUPUI, has a very different role in the digital music library project. His task is to lead the investigation of the intellectual property issues that arise in the context of developing and utilizing the library.

"The issues are formidable," Crews says. "Recent controversy and litigation surrounding MP3 and Napster remind us that copyright law in particular can threaten the success of the project if we do not manage the complex issues with care and foresight."

Crews explains that storing and providing access to copyrighted music files can easily be construed as an infringement of the rights held by copyright owners.

"The copyright owner of a work has rights of reproduction, distribution, and performance of the work, among other legal rights," he says. "The proposed DML could be used to engage in exactly those activities, as files are copied and stored, then perhaps further copied and transmitted to users as performances. In the initial planning of the system, the architecture and planned utilization can affect the extent to which these possible legal issues can actually arise."

A more complicated challenge, Crews says, will be to identify when works may be used without copyright restrictions and when protected works may be used within the limits of fair use or other exceptions to the rights of owners.

"Not all works are protected by copyright," he says. "For example, copyrights expire after a long period of years, so some older compositions and recordings are in the public domain. Moreover, federal copyright law did not apply to sound recordings at all until 1972. These issues are highly complex and filled with subtleties. Thorough research should identify classes of works that may be used without the constraint of law."

SLIS Associate Professor Andrew Dillon is leading the usability portion of IU's $3 million digital music library project.
Photo Courtesy of Ric Cradick, IU Photographic Services

Related SLIS NEWs stories:

Million-Dollar Research Puts SLIS In Catbird Seat

IU Receives $3 Million Grant To Create Digital Music Library

Andrew Dillon is also assisting with usability issues. See SLIS NEWs stories:

Internet Connection: SLIS Lends Skills To UNext

From SLIS To UNext: An Alumnus' Success Story

Posted December 12, 2000