Leonardo da Vinci’s self portraitThis should be great news. For everyone’s good, the e-Leo digital library has announced that a whole lot of very interesting content is now available on the World Wide Web. Around 6000 drawings and writings from Leonardo da Vinci should be accessible now.

However, when enter the site you’re faced to the need to register. This means providing a whole lot of personal information (name, surname, address, ID number…). Furthermore, you must agree to inform about any changes in your personal information and inform them about any publication (paper ones? digital ones too?) including any of those contents they provide.

I decided not to register, and the library’s policy bothered me greatly for the following reasons:

  • They shouldn’t trust the provided information, as they have no way to verify it, so it’s useless for them and a danger for the users which are left in a very weak position with regards to the control of their personal information from then on. What will they do with that information? What will they do in the future once they have it?. It’s proven that personal information databases are not secure, and I’d suspect a library is not in the safest side here.
  • The solicited information is not needed to fulfill their (implicit) purposes of controlling the use of their reproduction of Leonardo’s work. If they’re worried about how their reproductions are used they simply have to use existing copyright laws. A registration and an agreement like this is just a barrier to the use of information and, as stated, a huge danger for users. Furthermore, all information can be easily forged.
  • I find terribly contradictory with a library’s goals trying to avoid the use of their material by users. Leonardo’s work copyright has expired some centuries ago (EU law) but the library looks very concerned about the copyrights they hold on their reproductions of this work. It’s indeed questionable how protecting this reproductions may help the progress and spread of culture even when, in most cases, that work has been done with public funds.

If we keep progressing like this maybe we’ll have to pay in the future for each picture we see in a museum, as we do now in the EU for each book we take in a public library. We already cannot photograph pictures (even without using the flash that would harm them) in museums or concerts and almost always a permission is due to draw there. I’d bet that remembering is some sort of copyright sin following this crazy logic.

Contrast this with how the Gutenberg Project understands how culture must be preserved and promoted.

I couldn’t but write a mail to the library’s director:

Congratulations and thank you very much for the e-Leo project. Putting all this knowledge
in the hands of people can only be a good thing for education.

I only have a complaint about it, and is the need of registration to be able to enter the site.
In my humble opinion, it's just an annoyance that doesn't get you any relevant information 
(you can only check for a valid e-mail address, that can be fooled), but is a mayor nuisance
for users. Many probably won't enter the site as they have to pass through a registration and
give, one more time, personal information.

Is there any reason why this can't be more open? Let's hope the fear of being in the open
progressively vanishes...

Regards, and congratulations again.

Rafael Villar Burke