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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Filed Under: book scanning, harvard
Companies: google

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  1. identicon
    LostSailor, 7 Nov 2008 @ 10:44am

    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.

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