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Libraries Skeptical About Proposed Deal Between Google and Publishers

May 07, 2009 07:00 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The impending $125 million settlement between Google and book publishers and authors has libraries calling for "rigorous oversight" of Google's plans to house millions of books on the Web.

Fairness of Settlement to Be Determined in October

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Several months ahead of the court date that will determine whether the Google Book Search deal with publishers and authors is fair, three prominent librarian groups have vocalized their skepticism about the deal, which would make millions of books searchable and readable on the Internet. According to the Authors Guild, a leading plaintiff in the original court case along with the Association of American Publishers, the court date is slated for Oct. 7 of this year.

The settlement stipulates that publishers including Simon & Schuster, McGraw-Hill Cos., Pearson Education Inc., Penguin Group and John Wiley & Sons Inc. will be dispensed payments totaling $125 million from Google in exchange for the rights to make certain in- and out-of-copyright books available on the Web, MarketWatch reported in October 2008. The preliminary settlement approval is available as a PDF on the Authors Guild site.
But the American Library Association, Association of College and Research Libraries and the Association of Research Libraries have banded together in concern over the potential monopoly that Google would have over the digital book and journal sphere, saying that the company's project "would not safeguard readers' privacy," Reuters reported. The groups submitted a friend-of-the-court (amicus) brief, according to MediaPost, which essentially means they "aren't objecting to the deal."

"Other groups have complained to the U.S. Justice Department about antitrust elements of the deal," Reuters adds, "and the department has made inquiries about it."

Combined, the library groups represent more than 139,000 libraries and 350,000 librarians, according to a press release about the amicus brief on the ALA Web site.
MediaPost quotes the associations as saying in the brief, "The settlement is silent concerning what information Google will retain concerning the consumer, how it will use the information, and what measures it will take to protect the information's security."

The groups' sentiments have been echoed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group that works to protect citizens' rights "in the digital world." The EFF, along with a group of authors, will oppose the settlement unless certain privacy measures are established, MediaPost added.

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Background: Google deal preliminarily approved by judge

N.Y. District Judge John Sprizzo granted Google preliminary approval for its settlement with book publishers on Nov. 18, 2008.

Andrew Macgillivray, Google's associate general counsel for products and intellectual property, said at the time, "The preliminary approval order sends a highly positive initial message," Bloomberg reported. "This agreement promises to benefit readers and researchers, and enhance the ability of authors and publishers to distribute their content in digital form.''

Google was first sued by the publishing companies in 2005, claiming that the Internet giant was breaking copyright law by scanning books and offering them online. As part of the settlement, Google will not show any part of in-copyright books online that are not included under its new “partner program,” according to Google chief legal officer David Drummond.

The settlement also requires Google to create the Book Rights Registry, an independent nonprofit service intended to “resolve outstanding claims by authors and publishers and to cover legal fees from class-action lawsuits against Google,” The Daily Telegraph reported last year.

About $45 million of the money will be to compensate authors whose work was made available by Google without their consent. The rest of the $125 million will go to the Book Rights Registry and legal fees.

Opinion & Analysis: Pros and cons of Google Book Search

“Regardless of who benefits more as a business, this [is] certainly a big win for readers,” Chris Snyder wrote last year in Wired magazine. Arguing for authors, Mitch Ratcliffe of ZDNet said that “without some radical changes in the publishing industry, the results of the settlement are not going to make it easier to be a writer for a living.” In The New York Times Magazine in 2006, Kevin Kelly wrote that Google's plans were sound. “Search opens up creations. It promotes the civic nature of publishing. Having searchable works is good for culture.”

In a press release about its amicus brief on the ALA Web site, the library associations said the Google settlement "could compromise fundamental library values including equity of access to information, patron privacy and intellectual freedom," but added that the court "can mitigate these possible negative effects by regulating the conduct of Google and the Book Rights Registry the settlement establishes."

The case is rendered more complex as antitrust issues have only come up in the settlement, not the "underlying case," Jonathan Band, who helped draft the ALA and ARA's document, told Ars Technica. "[I]t is the structure of the settlement that raises the competition issues," Band said. "But precisely because the settlement raises the issues, the judge has the authority to address them without requiring a separate finding of an antitrust violation."
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