Is Google Books doing the right thing? – Responses on the ruling

The behemoth has suffered a major drawback. Judge Denny Chin on 22 March rejected Google’s plan to pay a legal settlement of $125 million to authors and publishers, a deal first made in 2005 with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers. Judge Denny Chin deemed the settlement unfair for granting Google the right to profit from books without copyright owners’ permission.

While the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers are pro-Google, the project also faces strong opposition. Commonly heard complaints include protests that Google would have exclusive rights to profit from millions of orphan works whose right holders can’t be found. Others balk that no other company would be able to build a comparable library, allowing Google free reign to charge high prices for its collection. And some critics believe the exclusive access to millions of books would assist Google’s tight grip on Internet search. Among the opponents are Amazon, Microsoft, academics, authors, copyright experts, the Justice Department and foreign governments.

In favour of Google’s digital library

What do the Google allies say about the ruling? One of Wired’s blogs countered any optimism, saying “that celebration is a shame, because the world will be poorer for the decision,” while only the copyright whiners have won out. The New York Times opines the missed chance for a universal library: “Google had gotten closer to the elusive goal than anyone else.”

“It is quite disappointing because there isn’t something better in the wings,” said Michael A. Keller, the university librarian at Stanford, one of the universities that allowed Google to scan its books. Pail Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild still has hope: “The judge did expressly leave the door open for a revised settlement.” Also some publishers are disappointed by the decision but believe it provides clear guidance on how the settlement can be approved. Among the disappointed publishers is John Sargent, chief executive of Macmillan, speaking on behalf of his ilk, which included Penguin Group USA, McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, Simon & Schuster and John Wiley & Sons. “The publisher plaintiffs are prepared to enter into a narrower settlement along those lines to take advantage of its groundbreaking opportunities. (…)We hope the other parties will do so as well.”

And what does Google say? “We will continue to stay engaged and try to be supportive.” Hilary Ware, managing counsel at Google, believes that the decision was “clearly disappointing,” explaining: “Like many others, we believe this agreement has the potential to open up access to millions of books that are currently hard to find in the U.S. today.”

Against Google’s digital library

And what do the opponents say? Judge Denny Chin decided Google’s agreement was “not fair, adequate and reasonable.” Gina Talamona, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in a statement that the court had reached the “right result.”

“Even though it is efficient for Google to make all the books available, the orphan works and unclaimed books problem should be addressed by Congress, not by the private settlement of a lawsuit.” said Pamela Samuelson, a copyright expert at the University of California. The Cornell Daily Sun agrees: “A universal library has unlimited potential, but not if one person holds the strings.” Robert Darnton, the director of the Harvard University Library, sees it as a chance to build a public good, outside the clutches of a private company, “an opportunity for those of us who care about creating a noncommercial public digital library to get on with it.”

The opponents of the Google Book project want to create a non commercial universal digital library called the Digital Public Library of America. This effort counts many supporters:  librarians from major universities, officials from the National Archives and the Library of Congress and some of the largest philanthropic foundations.

The responses in favour of Google focuses mainly on the advantages of a digital library, and some still have hope for the Google Book project. The opponents of Google agree with the advantages of a universal digital library but do not believe Google is suited for the job. Whatever the responses may be, if Google decides to appeal, we’ll have to wait and see which side brings enough ammunition to settle a project that seems inevitable in any case. For now Google is strong-armed by laws that need revision anyway (copyright), but the future digital library should keep the most important goal in mind: serving the public.