Sunday, February 28, 2010

Google book settlement: What's it all about? Pros and Cons

CNet's Greg Sandoval reports on the Google book settlement plan drawing fire in court.

For those who wonder what it's all about, CNet describes the "disparate and dissenting constituencies" that showed up in federal court Thursday, Feb. 18, to comment on Google's plan to create an all-encompassing digital library.

After giving a description of the scene in court, Cnet states the basics:
' Google wishes to create a vast and unprecedented digital library and has reached an agreement with groups representing book publishers and authors that would allow the search engine to display digital snippets of out-of-print books still covered by copyright.  Their representatives appeared before U.S. District Judge Denny Chin to seek approval for the deal.

Perhaps best known for presiding over the Bernie Madoff securities-fraud case, Chin is now tasked with determining whether the controversial settlement is fair to authors, publishers, Google's competitors, and the public.

  One main issue is that Google would have the right to exploit titles belonging to authors who have not given their approval. '
Chin wasn't about to issue a ruling before first hearing from stakeholders, an important one being the U.S. Department of Justice, which has not been smiling on Google's plans for what is termed the "orphaned books."

Supporter Lateef Mtima, a Harvard law professor and director of Harvard's Institute for Intellectual Property and Social Justice, told the Judge:

  "Copyright was intended to be an engine of cultural development,
    not a brake

Paul Courant, a professor at the University of Michigan who oversees the school's libraries, said that digitizing books frees knowledge from the restrictions of geographical locations.  Most books at the University can't be read unless you are there, in Ann Arbor.

However, of those who addressed the court, settlement opponents outnumbered supporters 3 to 1.  CNet continues:
' Detractors claimed Google's plan poses an unprecedented threat to the privacy of book readers.  Several authors argued that the agreement would desolate copyright law.  Competitors, such as Microsoft and Amazon, said the settlement is an attempt by Google to set itself up as the all-powerful emperor of digital information.

Nothing drew more fire than the settlement's plans to force authors to "opt out" in order to prevent Google from scanning snippets of their books.  Critics say that Google has everything backward here.  They ask why is it that authors must go out of their way to opt out in order to prevent Google from exploiting their work?

Doesn't copyright law already require that they give their permission first before someone can license their work? '
One might think the Dept. of Justice opinion carries some weight...
' William Cavanaugh, an assistant U.S. attorney general told Chin that the publishers and the Authors Guild do not have a right to enable a third party such as Google to use an author's work without their permission.  "This (settlement) has the effect of rewriting contracts," said Cavanaugh, who also told the judge that the government continues to investigate whether the agreement violates antitrust laws. '
Privacy is another concern.
' Representatives from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and The Center for Democracy & Technology described worrisome scenarios whereby information about people's reading habits could be tracked with Google's proposed service.  For example, Google would possess records of a person who read a sexually explicit book or some other controversial title.  In addition, Google would have the ability to log even the pages the person read. '
Google's attorney told the court that the company IS interested in getting rights to the "orphan works," titles for which the author isn't known or can't be found.

CNET closes with
' The question of properly paying someone who is entitled to compensation under Google's plan but may not be aware of it has been a hot issue. Google said that the money earned from orphan works is what will make the digital library a feasible business. Google's attorney said that others, such as Microsoft, who attempted to digitize books in the past couldn't monetize their efforts this way and that's why they failed. '

1. 'By smilin - Out of print doesn't mean what you think.  It just means a book isn't being printed at the time.  Almost always the copyright holder does an additional run.

What if the publisher doesn't want to opt-in?  If you do an opt-out policy then you have essentially forced an opt-in.  The logic one would use to make this seem OK just makes my brain lock up.  Copyright owners would likely not opt in because they OWN the rights and intend to excercise them to make money.  If you take said right away then you have just stolen that opportunity from them." '

  I've got a friend who is an author of a recent yet out of print book.  They have plans to publish this as an e-book on Amazon.  What happens when they try to sell such a book and the customer has already found a copy of it for free on Google?

2. By orbital_bruiser - February 19, 2010 1:18 PM PST
  '...At issue is people [Authors Guild and non-related publishers] that don't own the copyright on material giving Google the right to scan and charge access without permission.  Not only that, the people that don't have the rights to works in question are agreeing to allow ONLY Google to do this...'

3. By ACLU_NorCal - February 19, 2010 9:39 AM PST
  'There are serious privacy implications of google book search that were raised yesterday by the ACLU, EFF, and CDT.  Because the settlement does not contain any privacy protections for users, Google's system will be able to monitor which books users search for, and even which pages they read and how long they spend on each page.  Google could then create a massive "digital dossier" that might be vulnerable to fishing expeditions by law enforcement or civil litigants.

Read more about the privacy implications on the ACLU-NC's website:

- ACLU of Northern California '

4. By job514 February 20, 2010 12:04 AM PST
  'Opt-In is a ridiculous concept for this occasion.  These books have fallen out of print because the publisher in most cases has neglected it.  Google is offering a way to monetize these books again.  If the author is dead and/or the publisher is out of business then who is going to represent the rights of this book?  No one!  Who gets to see this book?  Depending on how many copies are left in existence... and how close you are to the library that has it.

  For a repository to be of true value it must include as many works as possible.  If I am researching the occurrence of the word "communism" in books from 1970's-1980's, and half of the out of print books are missing because the publisher neglected the work then I'm S.O.L.  Then again... if these books do indeed have continuing value then the author/publisher if he/she is still around will have incentive to claim it.  Google doesn't get the money in the mean time either...  It is set aside for a period of time for the right-holder to reclaim.  Copyright has failed us. Google has come up with a win/win solution. ' 'Share this post if you'd like others to see it.
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