Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Google Books Settlement

(Uploaded Photograph).  (2010). Google Books [Photograph], Retrieved September 30, 2010 from:
I am not necessarily qualified to write a lengthy or in depth post on the Google Books settlement because I have never really understood it. Yesterday I attended an eBooks Summit and there were some fascinating panelist on the topic so I wanted to briefly summarize the situation and touch on what this could mean for libraries.

What we do know is that Google has undertaken an enormous project to digitize and make the world's out of copyright literature searchable and freely available. In 5 years google has digitized close to 14 million titles in 478 languages. This is very threatening to many us who fear that Google is becoming too large, may put libraries out of business, publishers out of business and then become evil. Still Google Books can be a powerful reference tool. Earlier in my career I was assisting a young man with his research on a particular aspect of Martin Luther's theology. He was looking for a passage in one of Luther's works that we did not have in our collection and we ordered the title for him through interlibrary loan. It then occurred to me to search Google Books and the young man had what he was looking for within moments.

We know that there are many advantages to making the world's literature freely available online. It benefits those who don't have immediate access to large libraries, many of the books are translated into other languages, for the visually impaired the text can be read using text-to-speech technology. Many books are preserved this way and reprinted through print-on-demand services. Still great opposition arose to the Google Books project to the point that it had escalated in a major court case. Google had based all of this on a murky provision of American copyright law known as, "Fair Use".

In 2005, when Google was beginning to digitize the contents of several major research libraries like that of The University of Michigan Ann Harbor the Authors Guild and several publisher became involved asking a federal court to require Google to halt the scanners. Google made the argument that it's books project was for the greater good but publishers and others were terrified that Google was violating copyright and harming the publishing industry. In, "The Googlization of everything" the author clearly defines the battle lines of these legal debates. If Google had won then the concept of fair use would have expanded beyond imagination. If the publishers would have won then this would have halted a growing trend of freedom and openness of information. Ultimately Google, The Authors Guild and the American Association of Publishers drafted a settlement in which Google Books would pay 125 million and provide rights registry for copyright, be limited to providing access to 20% of a copyrighted work and fund public access terminals in libraries.

Opposition grew for the settlement from some librarians at Harvard (Harvard is now a partner in the Google Books project and a leader in the open access movement) and legal scholars from the University of California in addition to publishers and copyright lawyers. After revisions of the initial settlement terms a Fairness hearing was held and 21 of 26 speakers who addressed the settlement spoke against it. In the end the settlement was agreed upon but leaves the debate open because there is no solid precedent for copyright in the digital age. In addition there is the threat that Google will gain a monopoly on digital content and rape libraries of their valuable content.

So what does all of this mean for libraries. A portion of this presentation was given by Ivy Anderson who works for The University of California and their digitization project. She has given convincing data to show that in general the circulation records of printed materials are going down at least in The State University system of California and that the use of digital resources is going up. Her argument is that digital collections, like Google's, improve discovery and access of materials, enable new modes of scholarship, preserve and protect our collections, manage our print collection and to fulfill a public services mission. In my mind it was always the goal of libraries to make information available and so for the most part it is in the interest of libraries to assist Google in digitization. There are many major research universities who participate including Columbia, Cornell, University of Michigan and Oxford University.

While much of it is confusing I think we can boldly go into the future knowing that digital versions does not necessarily mean the end of the books or libraries. We can also know that Google books can be a powerful research tool but that we must proceed with caution.

Albanes, Andrew. (2010, September 29). The Google Settlement: How did it come to this? Presented at the Library Journal Virtual eBook Summit: eBooks Libraries at the Tipping Point.

Anderson, Ivy. (2010, September 29). The Google Books Settlement: A Partner Library Perspective? Presented at the Library Journal Virtual eBook Summit: eBooks Libraries at the Tipping Point.

Badger, Brandon. (2010, September 29). Google Books: Read AnyWhere. Presented at the Library Journal Virtual eBook Summit: eBooks Libraries at the Tipping Point.


Brian Denker said...

This is a fantastic explanation of a very confusing issue. Thanks so much TR. Please continue helping the rest of us understand and interpret matters such as these!
-Brian Denker

TR said...

Thanks Brian. One thing that we do know is that Google is paying quite a bit of money for this project both in costs and in rights management. So it is hard for me to believe that they are doing just for the good of society. They are benefitting financially through advertisements and by having somewhat of a monopoly on digital web content. Something to be careful about.

Anonymous said...

I would like to exchange links with your site
Is this possible?

TR said...

Hi Anonmymous, I could add a links sidebar to this blog in the future. I am not sure what your website is and might consider linking to that site but you are more than welcome to link to this blog.