Digital Odyssey 2009

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Google Book Settlement

Posted by dodyssey2009 on June 12, 2009

The Google Book Settlement & its Impact on Libraries

Speakers: Sian Meikle, Digital Services Librarian, ITS, University of Toronto Libraries
Tony Horava, Collection and Information Resources Coordinator, University of Ottawa

Blogged by Jana Purmalis

This presentation, based on a recent paper prepared for the OCUL Directors, provided an overview of the terms of the controversial Google Book Settlement, as well as an exploration of some of its implications.

Sian Miekle opened the session with some background on the Google Book Search.  Established in 2004 in the US, the digital Google Book Search includes an estimated 7 million books that were scanned through partnerships with 20 libraries and several publishers.  The database includes material that is both in-copyright and out-of-copyright, as well as in print and out of print.

While Google claimed that indexing the full text of in-copyright materials for search and discovery only constituted fair use, the American Publishers Association and the American Authors Guild felt differently, and in 2005, two US class-action lawsuits were launched against Google (later merged into one).  In October 2008, a settlement was announced, pending approval of the US Court.  The Fairness Hearing is scheduled for October 2009. 

As noted by Ms. Miekle, the terms of the settlement are vast and complex, but here are some of the main points:

  • The lawsuit only concerns rights within the US
  • The settlement only covers books (not journals, newspapers, or other formats)
    • It includes all books in copyright that are covered by the Berne convention (anything published in the 164 countries that signed the Berne convention)
    • But only those books that existed prior to January 2009
  • It is a non-exclusive settlement, in that rights holders retain the rights to make agreements with other providers
  • Google would have to pay out $60 per title to rights holders for books scanned prior to May 2009 ($45 million total)
  • Google would have the right to sell online access to books and to create other related products
    • 63% of revenue stream would go to copyright holders and 37% to Google

Tony Horava, Collection and Information Resources Coordinator at the University of Ottawa, delved further into some of the major issues and questions raised by the terms of the settlement:

  • Even though the agreement is non-exclusive, Google will be a massive “one-stop shop” for online books, and very likely deter competition from other ventures
    • Will the settlement grant Google a de facto monopoly? What about Google’s influence on the market pricing of out-of-print books? What will happen to the smaller players?
    • How will the ebook aggregators (for example, Netlibrary and ebrary), be affected? Google has deep pockets for R&D. 
    • How will Amazon be affected? Google wants to build an open platform for selling e-books online that would be device and platform-independent
    • If and when it is available in Canada, what will the pressure be like for libraries to acquire it?
  • Although revenue generated from out of print titles would theoretically be split 63-37% between rights holders and Google, respectively, orphan works, whose rights holders cannot be located, comprise 79% of the out of print material
    • Under the settlement, only Google gets rights to provide and sell these orphan titles online
    • More revenue for Google
  • Privacy issues
    • The service will require user identification, and book products are to be housed on very few server
    • To what extent will Google be able to monitor and track user reading habits?
  • Intellectual freedom and transparency
    • The Research Corpus is to be “carefully gate-kept” and contents of the Rights Registry are not publicly available
    • Using the Research Corpus for “non-consumptive” research requires that a research agenda first be approved by the host institution
  • Equity of access
  • Long-term security of data

To conclude, Mr. Horava emphasized the importance of careful monitoring and advocacy with stakeholders, encouraging audience members to contemplate the potential impact of the Google Book Settlement on the future of libraries. 

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