The Other Google Books Shoe Drops

March 23, 2011 at 6:17 AM Leave a comment

The Google Books deal is dead: Long live the Google Books deal!

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/23/technology/23google.html

I’m conflicted about this, as all librarians must be (at least a little). I really, really want the gBooks project to go forward. But from the beginning it seemed as if $125 million was a laughably paltry sum for what boils down to the rights to digitize (and keep the keys to) everything, forever, whether or not the true owner of its copyright had agreed to that use (if indeed they could be found).

The aspect of this project that set publishers’ teeth on edge in the first place was the chutzpah the Big G showed in just going ahead with digitizing anything that libraries would let them – without getting permission from publishers. Originally – pre-settlement – I thought this whole thing was a giant win for libraries, and publishers could go hang. But, Google being a for-profit enterprise, turning this into a vehicle for profit was inevitable. (There was also, from a business point of view, the need to make the project pay for itself – which can’t be ignored, especially for a project this open-ended.)

That’s understandable. But in the original settlement, there was no plan to make the full text of digitized books accessible to the public except through single-screen stations in public libraries (with libraries having the option to license more screens, for a fee to be determined at a later date). In other words, all terms were in favor of Google, libraries had no say in the agreement, which was between Google and the publishers, and the price Google paid for this arrangement was very, very low. I’d have been a lot more comfortable with original deal if Google’s profit on the project was not earned on the backs of libraries, with public access to full texts held hostage.

So even though I’m a definite gBooks enthusiast (and user), my first response when I read the judge’s decision was “hear, hear – finally, someone is making a judgment about this that’s in the public’s interest”. Ultimately, I hope they can come to an agreement that is equitable and fair to publishers and authors, but also fair to libraries and the public.

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Entry filed under: Digital Books, Library Futures, Publishing, Search. Tags: .

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