Press Release

Academics, Citing Public Interest, Plan To Intervene in Google Book Search Settlement


Mon, Apr 6, 2009 at 11:11 am

    While much mainstream news coverage of the pending Google Book
    Search settlement has focused on the potential boon to researchers,
    concerns raised by librarians and consumers have begun to hit critical
    mass. One sign was a front-page article in the April 4 New York Times, headlined Google’s Plan for Out-of-Print Books Is Challenged, which noted that two sets of academics plan to intervene in the settlement.

    Notably, the settlement gives Google essentially exclusive rights in
    making available the bulk of the books it has digitized from libraries:
    “orphan works,” those both in copyright but out of print, with the
    rights holders unavailable. The article quoted Harvard University
    librarian Robert Darnton’s warning about Google as monopoly; he
    previously expressed fears that Google would use that monopoly power to raise prices while reselling the database to libraries.

    As Google executives have told LJ previously, Google lawyer Alexander Macgillivray and Authors Guild attorney Michael Boni asserted to the Times
    that prices would be reined in by the settlement agreement’s goal of
    reaching as many customers as possible. (However, it also has the goal
    of realization of revenue at market rates.)

    More amicus briefs coming

    While three library groups, including the American Library Association, had already planned to file amicus briefs to weigh in on the settlement, the Times
    reported that other such briefs will be coming from the Institute for
    Information Law and Policy at New York Law School and a group of
    lawyers led by Harvard Law Professor Charles Nesson. The latter will
    expressly address the orphan works issue.

    The institute’s brief, according to Wired,
    will request that the Court "solicit the opinions of the Anti-trust
    Division of the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission."

    Objections and comments can be filed until May 5. A hearing is to be held on June 11.

    One commenter on the Times web site mused,
    "Why doesn’t Google set up a non-profit, and call it Digitized Orphans,
    or something like that? That way, they could recoup and protect their
    investment while making the orphaned books available to the reading
    public at cost — with quantity discounts for public institutions such
    as libraries and universities."

    Blame Microsoft?

    In a blog post, Times reporter Miguel Helft wrote that Google pushed to reporters a Wired article headlined Who’s Messing With the Google Book Settlement? Hint: They’re in Redmond, Washington.

    The reason: Microsoft has given $50,000 to the institute at New York
    Law School noted above, though the money came well after academic James
    Grimmelmann began offering a nuanced critique of the settlement. As
    Helft observed, however, not only librarians but law professors have
    raised questions about the settlement, notably at a recent conference
    at Columbia University (which LJ covered here, here, and here).

    Consumer Watchdog,
    a public interest group in Southern California, also has asked the
    Justice Department to intervene in the case to “serve the public
    interest,” Helft noted.

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