Libraries Square Off Against Google's Book Deal

Libraries Square Off Against Google’s Book Deal

The groups are asking the courts to prevent making Google the sole provider of the digital form of many books and research materials.

By Antone Gonsalves, InformationWeek
May 5, 2009

Library groups on Monday asked a federal court judge to exercise “vigorous oversight” of a settlement between Google and book publishers and authors that allows the search engine to scan library books and research materials and make them available over the Web.

The American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries, and the Association of Research Libraries are not asking the U.S. District Court judge in New York reviewing the settlement to kill the deal. Instead, the groups want to make sure the agreement does not give Google an unfair competitive advantage by making it the sole provider of the digital form of many books and research materials. Without adequate competition, the cost of institutional subscriptions for such electronic services could skyrocket, the groups said.

In addition, the associations ask the court to ensure that the public’s right to privacy in accessing the content is protected. The proposed settlement “offers no assurances that the privacy of what the public accessed will be protected, which is in stark contrast to the longstanding patron privacy rights libraries champion on behalf of the public,” Jim Rettig, president of the American Library Association, said in a statement.

The groups’ concerns were voiced in a court brief filed as members of the plaintiff class in the original suits against Google by the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild. The library groups represent more than 139,000 libraries and 350,000 librarians.

“The filing before the court by the library associations demonstrates that the associations will be vigilant in highlighting the interests of the public in this settlement,” Tom Leonard, president of the Association of Research Libraries, said in a joint statement with the other library groups. “We have asked the court to exercise vigorous oversight to ensure that the powerful groups that control content do not leave individual researchers, libraries, other cultural organizations and the public without an effective voice.”

Separately, the U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing the agreement to make sure it doesn’t violate antitrust laws.

The $125 million deal announced last October would settle a class-action lawsuit filed by book authors and a separate suit filed by publishers. Both suits had challenged the legality of Google’s scanning copyrighted library books and publishing snippets in search results without permission of copyright holders.

The settlement would clear the way for Google to digitize millions of in-copyright books and other library materials. A portion of the money from the deal would be used to establish a Book Rights Registry in which copyright holders could register their works and receive compensation from institutional subscriptions, book sales, and ad revenue. The remainder of the settlement would pay for works already digitized, resolve existing claims by authors and publishers, and cover legal fees.

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