College and university library officials are largely disappointed with Google’s decision to exclude non-English books from its digital library in a concession to critics of a proposed legal settlement, saying the move would cut Google’s massive online collection in half and could hamper campus research.
The internet search giant will ease its control over millions of copyright-protected books earmarked for its Google Book Search library if a court approves a revised lawsuit settlement that addresses objections of antitrust regulators.
The offer comes two months after the U.S. Justice Department balked at Google’s original agreement with authors and publishers, warning the arrangement could do more harm than good in the emerging market for electronic books.
Google is hoping to keep the deal alive with a series of new provisions. Among other things, the modified agreement provides more flexibility to offer discounts on electronic books and promises to make it easier for others to resell access to a digital index of books covered in the settlement. Google’s decision to exclude foreign-language texts comes after months of persistent criticism from many European officials.
Copyright holders also would have to give more explicit permission to sell digital book copies if another version is being sold anywhere else in the world. (See "Google rewrites landmark book-search deal.")
The concessions filed late on Nov. 13 in New York federal court are just the latest twist in a class-action lawsuit filed against Google four years ago by groups representing the interests of U.S. authors and publishers. The suit alleged Google’s ambition to make digital copies of all the books in the world trampled their intellectual rights.
Google’s concessions did not quell European criticism. French book publishers gave a hostile reception to the latest twist in the Book Search lawsuit.
The proposals "do not mark any progress on the essential question of non-English language works pirated by Google," said a statement by the Publisher’s Association (SNE), which groups most of France’s publishers. "The SNE is maintaining its position by asking Google to respect the essential principle of prior consent by authors and publishers for use of their works."
Erika Linke, who served as president of the Association of College and Research Libraries, said Google’s agreement to remove non-English works from its scanning project could stifle enthusiasm among college librarians anxiously waiting for the program to launch.
"It changes the value of it in a way," said Linke, associate dean of libraries at Carnegie Mellon University. "It makes a big difference" for students researching non-English texts, she said.
Brandon Butler, a law and policy fellow at the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), said Google’s compromise will slash the volume of texts librarians anticipated as they observed the mega-site’s protracted legal fight.
"It’ll be a pretty Anglo-centric system," Butler said. "What we thought we would have access to [on Google Book Search] was cut in half. It will make it significantly less attractive, because it’s much less comprehensive."
Higher-education library administrators interviewed by eCampus News said they would wait until the prolonged legal battle between Google and publishers is over before they establish policies on how campus libraries will use the book-search tool.
Some librarians questioned the usefulness of out-of-print books for undergraduate studies, especially during students’ freshman and sophomore years in college, when recently published introductory books are frequently used.
"There’s probably a huge quantity of information out there, but is it something you’d want to use in an educational setting?" said Stan Horton, assistant dean for library and media services at Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen, Wash.
Horton added that research universities where faculty and staff compile outdated, out-of-print books for collections from certain eras might find Google Book Search to be a valuable resource.
Two-year community colleges, four-year colleges, and major research institutions will use Google Book Search in myriad ways, Linke said.
"Different institutions will have very different uses for it," she said. "You’re not going to want to use a nursing text from 75 years ago [in an undergraduate course], but if you were to do research on the history of nursing, that kind of text would be very helpful."
Linke agreed that Google Book Search would be a sought-after tool for researchers, rather than a widely-used resource among undergraduate students.
Google negotiated a $125 million truce nearly 13 months ago, only to be attacked by a brigade of critics who protested to U.S. District Judge Denny Chin, who must approve the agreement before it takes effect. The financial terms of the settlement remain intact, including a promise to give 63 percent of all sales proceeds to participating authors and publishers.
Among other complaints, the opposition said the plan would put Google in charge of a literary cartel that could illegally rig the prices of electronic books–a format that is expected to become increasingly popular.
In echoing some of those concerns, the Justice Department advised Chin that the original settlement probably would break laws set up to preserve competition and protect copyright holders, even if they can’t be located.
The concessions didn’t go far enough to satisfy one of the most strident opponents, the Open Book Alliance, a group that includes Google rivals Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc., and Amazon.com Inc.
"Our initial review of the new proposal tells us that Google and its partners are performing a sleight of hand," said Peter Brantley, the Open Book Alliance’s co-chairman. "Fundamentally, this settlement remains a set piece designed to serve the private commercial interests of Google and its partners."
In a Nov. 13 conference call, representatives for Google, authors, and publishers expressed confidence the revisions would gain court approval, although they conceded they didn’t respond to all misgivings raised by the Justice Department.
Under the timeline laid out in the revised settlement, the Justice Department would have until Feb. 4 to file its opinion about the changes. The revised settlement suggests that a final hearing be scheduled for Feb. 18.
The revised settlement would apply only to books registered with the U.S. copyright office or published in Canada, the United Kingdom, or Australia.
Much of the concern about the settlement has focused on whether it would give Google a monopoly on so-called "orphan works"–out-of-print books that are still protected by copyright but whose writers’ whereabouts are unknown.
If the writers or their heirs don’t stake a claim to their works, the original settlement calls for any money made from the sales of their books to go into a pool that eventually would be shared among the authors and publishers who had stepped forward to work with Google.
The unannounced subscription costs to Google Book Search, Butler said, have remained a concern for ARL. In a May court filing, ARL asked the judge to keep a close eye on the massive Google Book Search settlement as it unfolds.
"… In the absence of competition for the services enabled by the settlement, this impact may not be entirely positive," the ARL filing said. "The settlement could compromise fundamental library values such as equity of access to information, patron privacy, and intellectual freedom. In order to mitigate the possible negative effects the settlement may have on libraries and the public at large, the Library Associations request that this court vigorously exercise its jurisdiction over the interpretation and implementation of the settlement."
The revised settlement will designate an independent party to oversee the financial interests of the orphan books’ copyright owners.
Proceeds from the sales of orphan books also would be held for 10 years, up from five years in the original agreement. After that, the money would be given to charities.
University librarians said they would observe from the sidelines while Google Book Search’s major details are determined in the courtroom.
Barbara Fister, head of the library instruction program at Gustavos Adolphus College in Minnesota, said the massive online library could change the way college research is conducted if Google can maintain an affordable, comprehensive collection–despite the persistent legal opposition to the company’s controversial effort.
"Whether in the end this resource proves to be a huge boon to researchers or the general public is an open question that depends on … the cost of access, the quality of the [book] scans, … and the effect of having a de facto monopoly that can monetize orphaned works will have on the information ecosystem," Fister said. "I’m not sure how we’ll feel 10 years from now."