Sunday, August 30, 2009

More questions than answers on Google Books; CNet News, 8/29/09

Tom Krazit via CNet News; More questions than answers on Google Books:

"Google's Dan Clancy had patiently answered question after question regarding Google's' Book Search settlement with publishers and authors until late in the afternoon Friday, when he was finally left speechless.

A young man from the University of California at Berkeley's School of Information asked Clancy what kind of message was sent when Google decided to "copy first and answer questions later." The question--for which there's no safe answer, if you're in Clancy's shoes--perhaps underscored the core of the opposition to the settlement, reached in October, after Google was sued in 2005 for scanning out-of-print works without explicit permission.

If the class action settlement is approved, Google stands to gain control of a priceless asset. Jason Schultz, acting director of UC Berkeley's Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic, called it "the largest copyright-licensing deal in U.S. history:" the right to display the contents of out-of-print books that are still covered by copyright protection.

Google, however, has already scanned more than 10 million books. At the moment, it's not allowed to display more than a few snippets of copyright-protected books for which it doesn't have an explicit agreement with the rights holders. If the settlement is approved, Google will suddenly flip a switch and offer full-text searches of those books, as well as links to bookstores.

Nothing vexes Google's opponents more than the fact that the company assumed that it had the right to digitize nearly 100 years of written material without serious negotiations with those rights holders until it was sued. Authors have until Friday to decide if they want to opt out of the settlement and preserve the right to sue Google on their own for digitizing their book without their permission, though they can tell Google to remove their books from the Book Search archive, even if they remain in the class...

But taking Google at its word requires trust, and trust in corporations is in short supply at this point in American history. It's taken perhaps longer than it should have, but Google is gradually realizing that a fair portion of the public no longer sees it as a cute little Silicon Valley start-up with idealistic stars in its eyes, one that insists "you can make money without doing evil."

Google damaged that trust when it began scanning books without permission, arguing that it was allowed to do so under fair-use laws. Publishers and author groups also harmed that trust when they turned over the key to the castle by bringing the lawsuit as a class action, suddenly making plaintiffs out of millions of authors who did not necessarily appreciate the future value of digital books in 2005, nor authorize the negotiation of the rights to their works."

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