by Mike Masnick
Tue, Feb 10th 2009 4:24pm
by Timothy Lee
Fri, Nov 30th 2007 11:06am
from the no-monopolies-here dept
These are somewhat puzzling concerns to raise at all given that Google has historically been absolutely obsessive about improving the quality of its search results and archiving useful data. But it also ignores a more fundamental point: Michigan, and Google's other library projects, aren't granting Google exclusive access to anything. Under the terms of the Google-Michigan agreement, Google returns each book after scanning it, and Michigan is free to sign up with other scanning projects, including Google's competitors. It's true that Michigan has agreed not to share the Google-created digital files with others. But the important point here is that those files wouldn't exist at all if not for the agreement. It would hardly be reasonable to expect Google to spend tens of millions of dollars to create digital files that would immediately be available to Google's competitors.
In short, Google is anything but a monopoly. There are already competing book-scanning efforts under way, and if Google's project is a success we can expect more such efforts to be launched in the future. And because Google isn't a monopoly, it doesn't make sense for universities to treat it like one by trying to micromanage every aspect of the service it ultimately offers. In the unlikely event that Google Book Search turns out to be a lousy product, consumers will punish Google by switching to the competing offerings of Microsoft, Yahoo, or others. It's pointless to try to force Google to produce a high-quality product when its competitors already give it plenty of reasons to do so.
Vaidhyanathan also characterizes the Michigan scanning program as "massive corporate welfare," but this, again, doesn't make a lot of sense. The vast majority of the books Google is scanning spend most of their time sitting on shelves unread. In principle, Google is no different from any other library patron: it checks out books, reads them, and returns them. The only difference is that it's doing it on a much larger scale than a normal library patron would. But there's no evidence that Michigan has been playing favorites. If another company approaches Michigan seeking to scan its books on the same terms, and is turned down, then people would have strong grounds for criticism. But that doesn't appear to have happened. Google's just made the best offer so far. The "corporate welfare" label just doesn't fit.