Friday, March 27, 2009

At Columbia Conference, Harvard’s Darnton Asks: Is Google the Elsevier of the Future?, Library Journal, 3/18/09

Via Library Journal: At Columbia Conference, Harvard’s Darnton Asks: Is Google the Elsevier of the Future?:

"Is the public’s interest in books at risk with the pending Google Book Search Settlement? That was one of many issues addressed at an all-day conference on the settlement, held on March 13 at Columbia University.

In the final panel of the day, which addressed public interest issues, Google’s Alexander Macgillivray, associate general counsel for products and intellectual property, responded a bit pugnaciously...He suggested that “a special type of researcher,” such as automated translation experts, would also benefit enormously from the database, that “the long term effects of those researchers having access to this corpus” could even lead “to more peace in the world,” and that the database would add significantly to access to books by disabled people, citing an endorsement from the National Federation of the Blind...

“The downside has to do with the danger of monopoly,” he [Harvard University librarian Robert Darnton] said, adding that, while not all monopolies are bad, the danger comes in the abuse of power, notably via monopoly pricing. “So we have a situation where Google can really ratchet up prices, and that’s what really worries me,” he said. “There’s no real authority to enforce fair pricing… I’m worried that Google will be the Elsevier of the future, but magnified by a hundred times.” Without a mechanism to police pricing, he warned, “it’s going to ruin libraries.”...He called the provision of one terminal in public libraries “one of the weakest provisions,” and predicted chaos in a large urban public library. Google, meanwhile, has said it would consider more than one terminal in larger libraries.

Another solution?
Is Congressional intervention on the public’s behalf a possibility? Does the settlement, for example, make it harder, or perhaps easier to go to Congress for authorization to create a national digital library? “I hate to say this, I don’t think it’s possible,” Darnton said. “We’ve got this settlement, and if it’s not modified now, it’s going to shape the world of digital information for the near future, maybe the far future.”"

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