Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Librarians Fighting Google's Book Deal; Time, 6/17/09

Janet Morrissey via Time; Librarians Fighting Google's Book Deal:

"Goliath Google facing off against a legion of librarians and, possibly, the U.S. Justice Department — now there's a fight...

In a complex settlement agreement, which took three years to hammer out and spans 135 pages excluding attachments, Google will be allowed to show up to 20% of the books' text online at no charge to Web surfers. But the part of the settlement that deals with so-called orphan books — which refers to out-of-print books whose authors and publishers are unknown — is what's ruffling the most feathers in the literary henhouse. The deal gives Google an exclusive license to publish and profit from these orphans, which means it won't face legal action if an author or owner comes forward later. This, critics contend, gives it a competitive edge over any rival that wants to set up a competing digital library. And without competition, opponents fear Google will start charging exorbitant fees to academic libraries and others who want full access to its digital library.

"It will make Google virtually invulnerable to competition," says Robert Darnton, head of the Harvard University library system.

Although competitors could scan orphans, they would not be protected from copyright suits as Google is under the agreement. "They'd face lawsuits all over the place," making the risk too big, said Darnton.

Without competition, pricing could go wild, critics claim. The registry, which oversees pricing, is comprised of authors and publishers who stand to benefit from high subscription fees. "There will be no incentive to keep prices moderate," Darnton says.

The library community recalls with horror the pricing fiasco that occurred when industry consolidation left academic journals in the hands of five publishing companies. The firms hiked subscription prices 227% over a 14-year period, between 1986 and 2002, forcing cash-strapped libraries to drop many subscriptions, according to Van Orsdel. "The chance of the price being driven up in a similar way (in the Google deal) is really very real," he says.,8599,1904495,00.html?imw=Y

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