Thursday, April 08, 2010

Google Grants Program to Use the Google Digitized Books

Google has opened a grants program to use its digitized books. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, a March 31, 2010 article in Technology by Marc Parry,

... The company is creating a "collaborative research program to explore the digital humanities using the Google Books corpus," according to a call for proposals obtained by The Chronicle. Some of Google's academic partners say the grant program marks the company's first formal foray into supporting humanities text-mining research.

The call went out to a select group of scholars, offering up to $50,000 for one year. Google says it may choose to renew the grants for a second year. It is not clear whether anybody can apply for the money, or just the group that got the solicitation. (snip)

It's unclear whether professors awarded grants under Google's humanities program will be able to work with newer digitized volumes still protected by copyright. In 2005 the Authors Guild filed a lawsuit accusing the company of "massive copyright infringement." A proposed settlement of that suit, which has drawn criticism from the U.S. Department of Justice, awaits court approval. (snip)

Literature is one of eight "disciplines of interest" that Google has identified for its program. The others are linguistics, history, classics, philosophy, sociology, archaeology, and anthropology.

The effort seems largely focused on building tools to comb and improve Google's digital library, whose book-search metadata—dates and other search-assisting information—one academic researcher calls a "train wreck." These are some of the sample projects that Google lists in its call for proposals:

• Building software for tracking changes in language over time.

• Creating utilities to discover books and passages of interest to a particular discipline.

• Developing systems for crowd-sourced corrections to book data and metadata.

• The testing of a literary or historical hypothesis through innovative analysis of a book.

Breakthrough for Digital Humanities?
In part, the program reflects Google's self-interest. One of the company's imperatives is to encourage people to use its collections in creative ways, so that those collections "become essential parts of daily life," says Siva Vaidhyanathan, an associate professor of media studies and law at the University of Virginia and author of the forthcoming book The Googlization of Everything. But he argues that Google's support could also be a breakthrough for digital humanities.

Over the years, digital-humanities scholars have received sporadic support from organizations like the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. For example, the "Digging Into Data Challenge," recently organized by the NEH and other agencies internationally, is supporting research teams doing work such as a project to mine 53,000 18th-century letters to analyze how the effects of the Enlightenment can be observed in the letters of people of different occupations. Digital-humanities research, says Mr. Vaidhyanathan, is "full of great ideas and short on the tools needed to execute these great ideas," largely because of a lack of money.

But digital humanists will need to be wary of becoming dependent on Google, whether for research money or for the raw material of their work, Mr. Vaidhyanathan cautions. "The last thing we need is such a close relationship that the tools that scholars develop only work with Google-supplied data sets," he says. "That would be a tragic lock-in."

Submissions for the grants are due by April 15. Google is keeping the process so low-profile that details don't seem to even be available even on its own research Web site.

And it does not appear to be wide open. According to the call for ideas obtained by The Chronicle, Google is requesting proposals from "select researchers and faculty members." That presumably includes Google's book-digitization partners within academe. (Administrators at two of those partners, Michigan and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, confirmed that Google had solicited them.) Daniel J. Clancy, engineering director of Google Book Search, says the grant money will support about eight researchers. He referred further questions to a colleague, Jon Orwant, who was unavailable for comment.

Another unanswered question is what relationship this program will have to Google's long-term plans for enabling research on its digital books. The proposed legal settlement would permit the use of millions of in-copyright works owned by universities for "nonconsumptive" computational research, meaning large-scale data analysis that is not focused on reading texts. One or two research centers would be created for this work, and Google would back the effort with $5-million.

By comparison, $50,000-maximum research awards are fairly small scale. "The difference might be that the center might support longer-running, larger-scale projects—and probably more collaborative," says John M. Unsworth, dean of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Illinois. "The scale of the Google research awards suggests a single-investigator model."

So should researchers worry about being co-opted by Google?

"It's not like the tobacco industry sponsoring cigarette research," Mr. Jockers (Matthew L. Jockers, English professor at Stanford's English department) says in an e-mail message. "Google's profit model vis-à-vis the book-scanning project is pretty clear. ... That Google will also sponsor humanities research and give researchers access to the corpus does not, in my opinion, create any of the conflicts of interest that one finds in other kinds of sponsored research."
Meanwhile, artists and photographers have suddenly demanded a settlement similar to the Authors Guild Settlement that is pending. A post from David Kravets at reports on April 7, 2010 that a suit brought by the American Society of Media Photographers and others claims Google should compensate them because the company is violating their copyrights. the link takes you to a PDF of the complaint filing a class action suit: American Society of Media Photographers, Inc.,et al, and others similarly situated v. Google, filed in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York (Docket no. 10-cv-2977). The suit asks for a jury trial a damages for every count of infringement of copyright on the images owned by the class members. The Wired article quotes a spokesman, and essentially concludes that the lawsuit is about gaining an equal piece of the Google Settlement pie, after being shut out of the Authors Guild deal:
“If there is going to be a system developed to manage the compensation for these types of books, we felt visual artists need to be represented,” Eugene Mopsik, the executive director of the American Society of Media Photographers, said in telephone interview. “We have been totally excluded. We want a seat at the table.”
Justia is an excellent resource for the filings to date in the Google Books Settlement. Here is the Google Book Settlement Administrative Site, and the Google Book Settlement Site itself. Here is the Authors Guild Book Settlement Resources Page. I am guessing that Judge Chin probably has a headache right now. Who volunteers to Fed Ex him some aspirin?

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