British Library and Microsoft deal limits access to da Vinci papers - Museums Association

British Library and Microsoft deal limits access to da Vinci papers

The British Library (BL) has defended its decision to make the full digital version of Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Arundel …
Patrick Steel
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The British Library (BL) has defended its decision to make the full digital version of Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Arundel and Codex Leicester notebooks available exclusively to users of Microsoft's new Vista platform.

The Codex Arundel belongs to the library, while the Codex Leicester is owned by Bill Gates, the co-founder and chairman of Microsoft. The notebooks contain da Vinci's thinking on culture and science.

Gates has agreed to license a digital version of the Codex Leicester to the library for six months in exchange for Microsoft's use of the library to launch its Windows Vista platform. Both manuscripts can be viewed online by Vista users with Turning The Pages 2.0 software developed for the museum with Microsoft's sponsorship.

Lee Rosenbaum, the contributing editor of Art in America magazine, writing on her blog, CultureGrrl, accused the BL of being 'commercially co-opted' by Microsoft for allowing its copy of Codex Arundel to be 'coupled not only with Gates's Codex, but also with his Vista promotional campaign'.

A spokesman for the library said: 'Microsoft approached us, has sponsored our creation of Turning The Pages 2.0, helped develop the software, supported the testing, and has funded four prizes worth £10,000 each for our regional competition to give four public libraries the chance to win the software. We have got a lot out of it in terms of making the collections available to a wider public.'

Microsoft plugins have been made available that allow non-Vista users to see the digitised manuscripts, he said, but 'potentially you won't be able to see everything, or work as quickly as with the top-grade experience'.

When Museums Journal tested this, using Windows XP with a Pentium 4 processor, it was possible to view the books, but the software ran slowly. The software does not work on Windows 2000, XP Service Pack 1 or Macintosh platforms.

Martin Kemp, the professor of the history of art at Oxford University,
who was involved in the launch at the BL, told Museums Journal he was 'surprised to learn that the Codex Arundel is only available to people with the most advanced versions of Microsoft's operating systems'.

Asked to comment on the ethics of the deal between Microsoft and the BL, a spokeswoman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: 'Cutting edge technology will start with a limited audience, but the educational benefits of initiatives like Turning The Pages will reach increasingly broader audiences.'

Microsoft issued a statement saying: 'Bill Gates is at the British Library for two historical announcements. Microsoft is announcing the general availability of Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 globally… He is also here to witness the reunification of Leonardo da Vinci's codices.'
Patrick Steel

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