Faculty as Authors, Faculty as Researchers: What You Need to Know About the Google Book Search Settlement

Note: This is a longer version of an article that appeared in the Libraries’ most recent faculty newsletter. Google Book Search started in 2004 as a project to digitize and make available online millions of books held by a group of major university libraries. The plan was to digitize everything but only make fully available those books that were in the public domain, that is, no longer protected by copyright law. The books that were still under copyright would be presented in “snippets” – a few sentences displaying a user’s search terms in context, but the entire work would not be made available online. Copyright holders would also be given the option of granting permission for their work to be made freely available in its entirety, or for a limited preview (more extensive than the “snippet” view) to be made available online. In 2008, a group of authors and publishers initiated a class action lawsuit against Google, who they claim violated their copyrights by scanning and digitizing published works without permission. Google denied any wrongdoing, claiming that its actions are covered by the concept of “fair use” in U.S. copyright law; however, it decided to offer a settlement to the group of authors and publishers rather than having the suit go to trial. If you are the author of a book published in the United States (or a chapter in such a book) before January 5, 2009, you need to know how the Google Book Search Settlement affects you. First, determine whether you or your publisher holds the copyright to your book. If you hold the copyright and want to receive payment for the inclusion of your work in Google Book Search, or exclude your work entirely from Google Book Search, then you must “claim” your work or works at the Google Book Search Settlement administration website by June 5, 2010. If your publisher owns the copyright to your book, then the publisher gets to decide if it will be included in Google Book Search, and it will be entitled to the rights holder’s financial compensation. Some argue that the Google Book Search settlement, if approved, sets a dangerous precedent in its handling of what are called “orphan works” – books still in copyright and for which the rights holders cannot be identified or located. The Department of Justice submitted a “statement of concern” that Google would have the potential to monopolize the commercial market for these works. Google submitted a revision of the proposed settlement on November 13, 2009, which contained provisions for an independent trustee to represent the missing rights holders and removing some of the barriers to other companies licensing content digitized by Google. However, the fact remains that access to these works may change over time. This affects you as a researcher, as do the provisions of the settlement that limit full-text access and printing capabilities. Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – but in the case of Google Book Search, just how that will happen is still uncertain. Recommended Reading “About Google Books” “Google Book Search” “Google Book Search and the Future of Books in Cyberspace” “The Google Book Search Settlement: A New Orphan-Works Monopoly?” “Google Book Settlement” “Google Books Settlement: Key Players Comment” “Will Your Book Be in Google?”

Textbook Rentals

Inside Higher Ed has an article titled “Rent, Read and Return,” which I found pretty interesting and I would recommend reading.  It focuses on a number of sites that allow students to rent books for a reduced price. However, unlike Netflix, there often are late fees and penalties if books are not returned on time. Chegg, one of the sites profiled, agrees to plant a tree for each book rented.  Author Stephanie Lee writes:
“The site has gone on to make $10 million in revenue last year and more than that amount this past January alone, according to company officials…In an arrangement that will go live in August, McGraw-Hill Companies will provide the site with new books and share an undisclosed portion of the revenue, according to Couch. Until now, Chegg has been purchasing books on its own and through affiliate programs.”
I found this joint venture between Chegg and the publisher McGraw-Hill to be very intriguing-and I’m quite curious to know what those revenue portions are.  What do you think? The author links to an earlier Higher Ed article titled “Wanted: Book for a Term.”  In the comments section, University of Oregon Librarian Andrew Bonamici links to a program they’ve undertaken with their campus bookstore to try and reduce the cost of textbooks for students.  One commenter, ML, offered this opinion: “The single thing that would make the biggest difference in the money that students I know have to spend on books would be a liberalization of copyright law.”  Based on my own experience, I’m tempted to agree.  I often had to buy coursepacks, which were expensive, loosely bound article reprints-the cost of those materials was certainly not due to fine paper or binding.   With so many different stakeholders with competing interests, it’s hard for me to imagine a single, successful, solution built on compromise. 

Five Greek epigraphs

My husband recently finished writing a book about foreign policy.  Just as it was about to go to press, he hit a snag: he had started each chapter with an epigraph, a short quotation, from the ancient Greek historian Thucydides.  Now, you would think that anyone who wrote 2,500 years ago would be out of copyright and could be quoted freely, and you would be right, BUT…the owner of the English translation that my husband was using wanted $150 for each quotation, or 750 clams total.  My husband could translate Thucydides himself but doesn’t feel terribly confident of his own ancient Greek skills, although he knows Greek “a little.” Luckily, there is a translation that’s in the public domain, which means it can be freely copied and quoted.  It’s in the Perseus Digital Library, a web site with a wealth of primary and secondary source information on the ancient world.   So this is a grateful shoutout to the people behind Perseus: Greg Crane and Tufts University.   I’m in awe of this amazing example of scholarly publishing at its best! Are you looking for advice about using someone else’s work in your own scholarship?  Ask your subject librarian at the NU Libraries for assistance.  Maybe there’s a resource like Perseus for you, too!

New Scholarly Communication Resource

“Scholarly communication” may not sound like all that exciting of a topic, but there’s actually so many interesting ways in which it affects all of us in academia, whether we’re students, faculty, or staff. A committee here at Snell Library has been working really hard to assemble a resource for the NU community on scholarly communication. This website provides news and information about topics related to this issue, such as academic publishing, copyright issues, and open access. Be sure to check out this great new site if you’re interested in any of these areas!