Harvard Bails Out On Google Book Scanning Deal; Disagrees With Settlement Terms

from the and-here-come-the-problems dept

I’m on the record as being opposed to Google’s decision to cave in to authors and publishers with its book scanning project. Many people I normally agree with have taken the other side, claiming that Google’s agreement keeps the company out of court and creates a win-win solution. However, I still think, over the long term, this agreement is quite problematic — and we’re already seeing it at the margins. For example, Harvard has now dropped out of the scanning program, noting that it teamed up with Google because the program was going to make the library content freely and widely available. Yet, the settlement will impose charges and will greatly limit the usefulness of the library’s collection. From Harvard’s standpoint, this goes against what the library stands for.

I would argue that it goes directly against what Google used to stand for as well. Rather than making the world’s information accessible and findable, this move is an attempt to lock up the world’s information in Google’s proprietary format, so that Google can charge people for it. It sets in place a forced business model that actually diminishes the potential usefulness and value of books, and sets a bad precedent for just about everyone else. It’s still difficult to see any positives from this deal. It’s good to see Harvard stand up for what’s right, rather than giving in.

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Comments on “Harvard Bails Out On Google Book Scanning Deal; Disagrees With Settlement Terms”

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Twinrova says:

Another example of Big Business screwing up.

Can I add this to my “fear” as well?

Nah. No reason to as this only points out that when a business finds a way to screw things up, they’ll race to do it without realizing the consequences leaving the consumer another “WTF” moment.

It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when any business charges for information that costs them little to nothing to distribute.

Bob (user link) says:

A Project gone bad

This is what I hate about our litigating society. Someone comes up with a novel idea, no not novel, EARTH SHATTERING idea, and people start to see $$$$$$$.

This is one project that I would whole-heartedly say should be given Immunity from Litigation by the government. Why? This project isn’t about GOOGLE or YAHOO or MICROSOFT. This project goes deeper then any one Corporation, this project is something that is wholly beneficial to society, and in as much, should continue without abatement.

GOOGLE and the other participants aren’t looking to make a PROFIT, hell, they aren’t looking to BREAK EVEN, they are doing something that just needs to be done and doing without charge. Eventually those books will be so old that their pages will turn to dust, and tell me, just how will you recover them at that point?

Everything ever written should get scanned, EVERYTHING, even the crap that turns our stomachs and makes our blood boil. We should be reminded daily what FREE SPEECH really means.

Not only that, but every piece of Music ever composed should be digitalized and put into a conservatory for ALL to hear. Every piece of ART should be photographed and put online so everyone can see it, at least Virtually.

Our WORLD needs to come together and recognize that the education of our Children won’t be complete unless and until we grant them access to all these wonderful items, and we, as a Society, should do all we can to make that happen.

winterfreez says:

Re: A Project gone bad

A bit extreme if you ask me. After all, if I had a choice between a scan of Dante’s “Devine Comedy” and a piece of ignorant bathroom grafitti, I’d rather have Dante’s work. Unless the bathroom grafitti is REALLY funny… I’m kidding by the way.

Having said that, I do have to agree with Bob. I’m a hobbiest writer and watching a book burning comes damned close to films of concentration camps for me. I do whole heartedly think that we should preserve all art, whether it be pictures, paintings, songs, the written word and maybe even a beat poet or two. The fact of the matter is, well, you can’t put 5 pounds of crap in a 3 pound sock…

josh o says:

Re: A Project gone bad

you sound passionate enough about this turn of events to do something about it. you do not need google to archive the peoples media. start getting into mass collaborative archiving tools like bit torrent, wikipedia, or create your own. how about creating wikibooks? the last thing i want is the peoples media backed up on the servers of some monopolistic corporation like google. especially after all the books “turn to dust.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: nitpick

> “business model that actually diminishes the potential usefulness and value of books”

That’s not 100% accurate. It doesn’t take away anything that was there before. It does fail to add much in the way of new value, but that’s not that same as diminishing what we have now.

You seem to have missed the word “potential”. That refers to the future, not “now”.

JJ says:

DRM for books

Honestly, this sounds like the same thing that happened with Apple and music. Apple wanted to sell music online, and publishers said, “sure, no problem, as long as you put restrictive DRM on it and give us a cut of the profits, otherwise we’ll sue you.”

Then Google wanted to put books online for free, and the publishers said, “sure not problem, as long as you put restrictive DRM on it and give us a cut of the profits, otherwise we’ll sue you.”

But you have to understand that these books were not written by authors who were paid in advance and have no right to expect anything more… on the contrary, they were probably written for extremely small sums of money, with the understanding that more money would come over time, perhaps over a very long time, as more people bought the books. The issue here is that, in this case, there’s sort of a “long tail” problem, where Google’s project is equivalent to publishing just a few copies of millions of different books; so no author stands to gain very much money, but google stands to lose many millions paying a few bucks to each one. It’s the same problem the movie industry has, where they end up having to send checks for $1.27 each year to every extra who happened to appear in any film.

LostSailor says:

Missing the Point

As Ian noted above, Harvard’s move only applies to books in their collection that are still in copyright (and much of the real value of the collection is the public-domain material, which is not affected by their decision, or indeed the settlement between Google and publishers).

But what is missing here is that while Harvard is withdrawing in-copyright material from the scanning project because it’s reuse of the material will be “too limited,” it is not clear at all that Harvard would have the legal rights to do anything with those scans other than possibly archiving files.

What has been unspoken in the suit between Google and publishers is the issue of whether the libraries participating had the legal right to offer up their collections for the project (since they were to get both the physical books and copies of the scans back) and whether they would have any rights to do anything valuable with the scans. In the world of academic publishing, university libraries (as well as students and faculty) are primary customers for these publishers, and the publishers did not want to raise these issues if they could be avoided, which is why they went after Google (who, because they were making the scans was the primary “offender” in potential copyright violation). And it is also likely why the publishers wanted a settlement.

I know Mike thinks this is a long-term tragedy because he wanted a precedent set now and because it offends his sense that we should be moving on to a “freer” world where all this material would be available widely and without restrictions, but this is a prime example of a solution that largely achieves those ends while protecting everyone’s rights.

The fact that Harvard has announced it’s withdrawal of in-copyright material from the project does not mean that in-copyright material in it’s collection won’t be scanned and available, since much of that material will be available elsewhere. It does at least initially mean that Harvard may not reap the benefit of that material, but this is not going to be the last word.

I fully expect that libraries who participate in the scanning project will work out other agreements with publishers and authors that will bring Harvard back in.

mischab1 says:

Harvard didn’t actually drop out of anything. As noted in the original Crimson article, “University officials said that Harvard would continue its policy of only allowing Google to scan books whose copyrights have expired.”

Before the lawsuit Harvard was only letting Google scan books out of copyright and after the lawsuit Harvard is only letting Google scan books out of copyright. In other words, no change.

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