Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Brewster Kahle weighs in on the Google Book Search settlement

Last Thursday at the Society of Ohio Archivists Annual Conference, I spoke on Google and Flickr (I'll blog about that presentation later this week). During my talk, I mentioned the Google Book Search settlement and gave a very quick take on what it meant. I mentioned that many people have commented on it and am now pleased to see that Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, has weighed in on it via an editorial published in the Washington Post on May 19. This comes after the Internet Archive and others being denied to intervene as a defendant in the lawsuit.

In his editorial, Kahle wrote:

Whereas the original lawsuit could have helped define fair use in the digital age, the settlement provides a new and unsettling form of media consolidation.

If approved, the settlement would produce not one but two court-sanctioned monopolies. Google will have permission to bring under its sole control information that has been accessible through public institutions for centuries. In essence, Google will be privatizing our libraries.

Later he said this about the second monopoly:

But the settlement would also create a class that includes millions of people who will never come forward. For the majority of books -- considered "orphan" works -- no one will claim ownership. The author may have died; the publisher might have gone out of business or doesn't respond to inquiries; the original contract has disappeared.

Google would get an explicit, perpetual license to scan and sell access to these in-copyright but out-of-print orphans, which make up an estimated 50 to 70 percent of books published after 1923. No other provider of digital books would enjoy the same legal protection. The settlement also creates a Book Rights Registry that, in conjunction with Google, would set prices for all commercial terms associated with digital books.
A growing number of people who have come out against this settlement. Unfortunately, those voices aren't being heard by the court because of the way court proceedings go. Yes, some have filed an amicus brief -- friend of the court filing -- but it is unclear if they will have any impact. Perhaps the Justice Department will decide to take action?!

By the way, the judge has given a fourth month extension for people to opt out of the settlement. While this will help many copyright holders, Kahle is correct in that some will never come forward due to death, ignorance, or resignation to what they may see as being inevitable.

One other quote from Kahle is worth repeating. He said:
For the cost of 60 miles of highway, we can have a 10 million-book digital library available to a generation that is growing up reading on-screen.
Given the emphasis on rebuilding our infrastructure and improving education, that is a powerful image. Let's hope the Administration is listening.

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