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If you work in a library, you need to be familiar with Google Books Wars.  The way I see it is:

  • Google wants to create a vast online digital library using university & public libraries’ vast repositories of printed books as source material.
  • Google will own the digital copies of the books they digitize and will be able to distribute them online along with making money off of the deal to boot through ad revenue, creating new digital products from the source material, etc.
  • Authors and publishers don’t like this so much, because authors and titles are included by default and would have to go through a seemingly arduous process to opt out for their materials.  Also, potential profits are (in theory) being eroded.
  • Libraries don’t like this so much, because the one “free access terminal license per library” to the digital books that Google will provide won’t be nearly enough to satisfy demand, especially in large libraries or multi-branch library systems.  In addition, it’s beyond frightening to think of a corporation having sole ownership & control over the world’s digital library.
  • Citizens don’t like this so much, because the physical out-of-print books that Google is digitizing are from non-profit, and largely public institutions…books purchased with public funds for the public good.  And Google is then turning around and making money off of the digital copies of those books.  Fair?  Many think not.

From a New Yorker Blog post by Anthony Grafton, which was oddly-enough available before the U.S. Department of Justice sent the letter to Judge Chin (found via ResourceShelf):

Even the libraries that have provided Google with its raw materials are not all happy with the result. The out-of-print books Google has digitized come from nonprofit institutions that built their collections as a public good. In return for pocket change—Google will contribute $125 million to create a nonprofit rights registry—these public treasures will now be monetized for the benefit of a private corporation. True, Google will give every public and university library one terminal where readers can access its entire collection. But these machines won’t be able to download or print texts—and you can imagine the lines. Libraries that want full access to all the books in Google will have to pay for the privilege, as well as for every download.

Media surrounding this issue heated up in the last couple of days as Google and its partners (the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers) are trying to quickly push through a settlement while the Justice Department screams out “hold your horses!” The DOJ seems to be concerned that the public good is not being served by the settlement, and that this major factor warrants further close inspection.

For more coverage, see:

“Google Books Wars – Resources & Explanations”

  1. Lori Ayre Says:

    Sarah, Thanks for such a succinct and useful summary of the issues. I never want to wade through all the paperwork so I appreciate that you did it for me!

  2. Scott Hanley Says:

    Sarah, I believe the worries about a Google “monopoly” have been terribly exaggerated. Part of the deal is that each library gets a copy of the digital file to keep for themselves, not under Google’s control. Many of these libraries have formed the HathiTrust consortium, dedicated to pooling their new resources (many, but not all, from Google’s scanning) to create an open, not-for-profit electronic library. As it stands, Google is the only one who’s worked out arrangements to deliver orphan works, but a) that’s likely to change in the future, and b) Google could hardly make them less available than they are now.

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