Monday, April 06, 2009

More on the Google Book Settlement

The New York Times reports on the growing opposition to the Google Book Settlement. Many of the concerns focus around so-called orphan works, out-of-print books that are still in copyright but whose authors are either unknown or cannot be found. Critics believe that the settlement may "grant the company too much power over orphan works ... because it will give Google virtually exclusive rights to publish the books online and to profit from them." Google's de facto monopoly over orphan books will stifle competition and allow Google to raise its prices over time. Opponents are planning to file briefs objecting to parts of the settlement before it is reviewed by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in June.

One of the opponents of the settlement is Brewster Kahle, whom I had the pleasure of hearing speak at the Library 2.0 Symposium at Yale Law School on Saturday. Mr. Kahle believes that the settlement gives too much power to Google, and that there are alternatives, one of which involves his group, the Open Content Alliance, whose aim is to digitize materials and make them freely available over the Internet. Currently, 1,000 books per day are being scanned, and around 4,000,000 books should be available by the end of 2009. Mr. Kahle said that the Google settlement will give Google the power to dictate what the public can and cannot read, thereby restricting innovation and creating a monopoly. It enthrones central control and lack of choice. His model is one of open standards that will make information accessible to anyone with an Internet connection and a computer. He is clearly passionate about his work, and it was hard for the law librarians in the audience to discount fears of monopolistic publishing companies, which other speakers referred to as "Death Star" publishers.

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