Google signs a deal to e-publish out-of-print books

From The New York Times, Nov. 9, 2008


Late last month, American authors and publishers reached an agreement with Google to settle lawsuits over Google’s Book Search program, which scans millions of books and makes their contents available on the Internet. The deal lets Google sell electronic versions of copyrighted works that have gone out ofprint.

“Almost overnight, not only has the largest publishing deal been struck, but the largest bookshop in the world has been built, even if it is not quite open for business yet,” wrote Neill Denny, editor of The Bookseller, a trade publication based in London, on his blog.

The settlement remains subject to court approval, and the bookshop would operate only in the United States for now. But the agreement is only one of many initiatives under which books are making what may be the biggest technological leap since Gutenberg invented moveable type.

From LJ Academic Newswire, One for All? As Google Deal Is Evaluated, Critics Question Single Library Terminal, Nov. 11, 2008:


While the Google Book Search settlement has prompted much debate, commentators have only begun to question how it might affect library service. One of the big questions: the deal’s allowance for free access at a designated terminal within public libraries. On one hand, getting every library a free access terminal for patrons to use the full Google Book Search database is a win for libraries—certainly neither Google nor publishers were obligated to consider libraries needs in their deal. On the other hand, critics note, mandating a “single terminal” is a  counterintuitive restriction in the digital age, and unfairly lumps all libraries, large and small, well-funded or not, into a single, geographic point of access.

“I strongly object to at least one aspect of the proposed Google Book Search settlement, which lets libraries offer just one terminal per library building for access to various books,” blogged Teleread’s David Rothman. “How backwards—not just the one terminal limit, but also the whole notion of linking access to your presence inside a library!”

Digital Library Federation president Peter Brantley called the restriction “irksome” and hinted that a one-size-fits-all provision was inadequate in the face of a lingering digital divide. “I do not know where program management at Google wakes up every morning; I do not know what pretty suburbs publishing executives wake up in every morning,”Brantley blogged. “But in Richmond, CA, [Brantley’s home city] and in many cities around the country, it is heinous to suppose that one public terminal given free reign to the corpus of the world’s literature is an adequate set aside against the promise of the opportunity that Google, publishers, and authors have made possible.”

From The Chronicle of Higher Education, Harvard Says No Thanks to Google Deal for Scanning In-Copyright Works, Oct. 30, 2008


Harvard University has examined Google’s recent legal settlement with publishers and authors, and found it wanting. The Harvard Crimson reported today that the university would not allow its in-copyright holdings to be scanned by Google Book Search because of concerns over the terms of the $125-million settlement, which was announced on Tuesday.

The deal, touted as a watershed moment in mass access to books, promises to make millions more titles available online. Scanned books could be previewed at designated public-library terminals or at institutions that bought a subscription from Google. Users would have to pay to purchase copies of the books, with Google, the publishers, and the authors sharing the proceeds. The settlement awaits final approval by a judge.

Harvard’s concerns center on access to the scanned texts — how widely available access would be and how much it might cost. “As we understand it, the settlement contains too many potential limitations on access to and use of the books by members of the higher-education community and by patrons of public libraries,” Harvard’s university-library director, Robert C. Darnton, wrote in a letter to the library staff.

More Commentary on the Google settlement:

Kevin Smith’s Looking for the devil in the details

Karen Coyle’s “pinball” comments here.

Open Content Alliance’s objections here.

This Washington Post article on Google’s New Monopoly (requires free membership).

PC World’s article on how business considerations have trumped ideals in this negotiation.