Sunday, August 2, 2009

Will Google Book Search Settlement Increase Access for Underserved Communities?; Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 7/31/09

Lois Elfman via Diverse Issues in Higher Education; Will Google Book Search Settlement Increase Access for Underserved Communities?:

"“Access is the big concern,” said Steven D. Jamar, professor of law at Howard University School of Law and associate director of Howard’s Institute of Intellectual Property and Social Justice, which on Wednesday held a panel discussion on the settlement. “Just because you’ve digitized doesn’t make it available.

Lateef Mtima, professor of law at Howard University School of Law and director of IIPSJ, has long noted that copyright protections have repeatedly been used to keep underserved members of the population from having access to a great deal of material.

For us, the digital divide has always been a constitutional copyright issue,” Mtima said. “We are at a point that it is possible for many of those underserved and marginalized people in society to finally have the kind of access to all the creative expression and literary works - that was just not possible before.”

Among the panelists at Howard was Charlie Brown, adviser to the president of the National Federation for the Blind. The settlement agreement provides access for the visually impaired.

Mtima is concerned that some copyright constituents will take advantage of the opportunities that the settlement agreement presents and try to shape it in a way that will continue to deny access to the underserved. Authors and publishers do have a right to opt their books out and not allow them to be digitized. There are also issues about copyright holders such as photographers or illustrators trying to prevent their work from being digitized with a book’s text, potentially leaving a book incomplete.

“It’s perfectly fine for people to raise a variety of questions and points that indicate that this project is not perfect,” Mtima said. “Those of us who are genuinely interested in the intellectual property law and copyright protection as an engine for social justice and social advancement in society it’s our job to keep the conversation in the right context and keep our thumbs on the right priorities.”

He added that he’s very pleased to see that there will be copyright protections for Black authors whose works have often been celebrated but often uncompensated. But tangential issues cannot override the incredible benefit of having vast amounts of knowledge accessible at virtually everyone’s fingertips. It is also important that there be sufficient numbers of terminals in urban libraries and affordable prices for smaller institutions."

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