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Google stands to be the single repository for millions of the world's books. Advocates applaud the organization and the access a digital library can afford. But critics worry about monopoly and profit motives, and what it means for readers' privacy.
In testimony before the House Judiciary subcommittee this morning, Marybeth Peters, U.S. Register of Copyrights, in her first detailed comments on the subject, blasted the Google Book Search Settlement as “fundamentally at odds with the law.” In a blistering assessment of the deal, Peters told lawmakers that the settlement is in essence a compulsory license that would give Google the ability to engage in activities, such as text display and sale of downloads, that are “indisputable acts of copyright infringement.”
After a flurry of last-minute filings on Tuesday, a federal judge must now begin untangling the mountain of competing claims about how a legal settlement granting Google the right to create the world’s largest digital library and bookstore would affect competition, authors’ rights and readers’ privacy.
“The number and quality of opposition filings is very unusual,” said Jay Tidmarsh, a professor of law at Notre Dame Law School. “The court is going to have to look at the public interest in the settlement.”
Whether the Google books settlement passes muster with the U.S. District Court and the Justice Department, Google's book search is clearly on track to becoming the world's largest digital library. No less important, it is also almost certain to be the last one. Google's five-year head start and its relationships with libraries and publishers give it an effective monopoly: No competitor will be able to come after it on the same scale. Nor is technology going to lower the cost of entry. Scanning will always be an expensive, labor-intensive project. Of course, 50 or 100 years from now control of the collection may pass from Google to somebody else—Elsevier, Unesco, Wal-Mart. But it's safe to assume that the digitized books that scholars will be working with then will be the very same ones that are sitting on Google's servers today, augmented by the millions of titles published in the interim.
That realization lends a particular urgency to the concerns that people have voiced about the settlement —about pricing, access, and privacy, among other things. But for scholars, it raises another, equally basic question: What assurances do we have that Google will do this right?
More from Geoffrey Nunberg at the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Amazon's expected objection to the Google Books Settlement landed in court yesterday and suggests the deal is "arguably unlawful."
"[I]t constitutes price fixing by horizontal competitors—namely, the Rightsholders, who are agreeing collectively on a mechanism for setting the highest possible prices to be charged for their works," argues the 49-page document, which was filed four days ahead of the September 4 deadline for written comments.
Amazon is part of the Microsoft-Yahoo-Internet Archive coalition, which is collaborating on preparing objections to the settlement. The coalition, called the Open Book Alliance, will be filing its own objection this week, while some individual parties, like Amazon, are also filing their own briefs. MediaBistro reports.
During a meeting last week with Google's Co-Founder Sergey Brin I asked him about a popular a question posed by several of our blog readers: Should we trust Google with our personal information? Brin told NPR that he can't see any reason that people shouldn't trust Google.
According to the French publishing group Hachette: Hardback books could be killed off if Amazon’s e-books and Google’s digital library force publishers to slash prices, warns Arnaud Nourry, Hachette's chief executive.
Mr Nourry said unilateral pricing by Google, Amazon and other e-book retailers such as Barnes & Noble could destroy publishers’ profits (not to mention what is happening to bookstores).
He said publishers were “very hostile” to Amazon’s pricing strategy – over which the online retailer failed to consult publishers – to charge $9.99 for all its e-books in the US. He also pointed to plans by Google to put millions of out-of-copyright books online for public use.
“On the one hand, you have millions of books for free where there is no longer an author to pay and, on the other hand, there are very recent books, bestsellers at $9.99, which means that all the rest will have to be sold at between zero and $9.99,” Mr Nourry said.
Mr Nourry’s comments come as analysts predict a growth spurt for the still-niche electronic reader market, with wireless devices from Sony, Plastic Logic and others due to compete with the Kindle.
Financial Times reports.
Is Google ready--or willing--to become a library?
Librarians, academics, and privacy advocates will gather Friday on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley to discuss the implications of Google's proposed settlement with publishers that, if implemented, will allow it to bring millions of books online.
With the Google Book Search Settlement’s September 4 deadline to object or file comments with the court fast approaching, libraries have ramped up efforts to have the deal altered. This week, the Urban Libraries Council (ULC), a member organization of medium and large public libraries called for changes in the settlement plan, as did New York State librarian Bernard Margolis, in a separate open letter to leaders in the library community.
Interesting question from Karen Coyle: The question surrounding the settlement is: are authors (as defined by the Author's Guild) served by the Google/AAP settlement -- yes or no? The bigger question, What is the future of the book in our civilization? is not on the table. Yet, in the end, that may be the question that is answered by this settlement, whether that outcome serves authors or not.