Google Books Project

Google Wins Fair Use Argument in Book Search Lawsuit

On Thursday, November 14, 2013, eight years after the Authors Guild sued that Google Book Search violated the rights of authors, Judge Denny Chin finally handed down his decision (PDF) on the lawsuit. The Internet giant’s project to scan millions of books held by academic libraries was found to “[advance] the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders.” Advocates of fair use are applauding Judge Chin’s decision. Brandon Butler, formerly Director of Public Policy Initiatives at the Association of Research Libraries (and a co-facilitator in the development of the ARL’s Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries), calls the decision “a powerful affirmation of the value of research libraries.” The Library Copyright Alliance, which last year issued an amicus brief in the case, quoted leaders of library organizations in a press release issued yesterday:
“ALA applauds the decision to dismiss the long running Google Books case. This ruling furthers the purpose of copyright by recognizing that Google’s Book search is a transformative fair use that advances research and learning.” – Barbara Stripling, president of the American Library Association
“This decision, along with the decision by Judge Baer in Authors Guild v. HathiTrust, makes clear that fair use permits mass digitization of books for purposes that advance the arts and sciences, such as search, preservation, and access for the print-disabled.” – Carol Pitts Diedrichs, president of the Association of Research Libraries
“I echo the comments of my colleagues that this ruling, that strongly supports fair use principles, enables the discovery of a wealth of resources by researchers and scholars. Google Book search also makes searchable literally millions of books by students and others with visual disabilities. This is a tremendous opportunity for all our communities.” – Trevor A. Dawes, president of the Association of College & Research Libraries
Inevitably, the Authors Guild has already announced its plan to appeal the decision. And some critics, while perhaps not siding with the Authors Guild, have questioned Google’s motives in embarking on the project – readers’ privacy is uncertain, for example. Google has also been criticized for providing low-quality or sometimes just incorrect metadata for the books it has scanned. But having access to such an enormous textual corpus, despite its flaws, is a boon for researchers working in the field of natural language processing — Brandon Butler lauds the decision as “a victory…for transformative, non-consumptive search” — as well as for the visually disabled.

Full-Color Nostradamus, Galileo, Kepler, and More

Google Books, in partnership with many of the great libraries in Europe, has just released full-color scans of important texts from the 16th and 17th centuries. They include Nostradamus’ prophecies, Kepler’s textbook on astronomy, and several works by Galileo including his Systema cosmicum, arguing that the Earth revolves around the Sun. The full-color scans are particularly important for illustrations, diagrams, maps, and distinguishing handwriting. Some of the books ages’ lead to bleedthrough (where the type on the other side of the page is visible), but even in those cases the full-color images give a sense of how the physical material has changed over time. There is not a separate interface through which you can access these books, but using the date limiters in the Google Books Advanced Search will help you find them. More detail is available at the Inside Google Books blog post.

On this evening’s Google Books Settlement Discussion at the Boston Public Library

“The future is here, but it doesn’t come to everyone at the same rate.”– Hal Abelson, MIT

In a nutshell: there seemed to be three major issues of concern (or queasiness as they echoed to each other) that the panelists (and the moderator) had, sans the Face of Google guy, Daniel Clancy.  Monopolization of the books market, access to library users and concerns of cost to libraries, commercialization of orphan works and the transformation of written culture.  Regarding the monopolization issue, John Palfrey of Harvard Law School, said “game over” if the settlement is ruled favorably.  He claimed that no one else will have the incentive to compete against Google in the digital books market.  Palfrey is also concerned regarding orphan works (works whose copyright owner cannot be found after an effort) and what will happen to orphan works legislation as a result of the Google Books settlement decision.  Palfrey and Anne Wolpert of MIT, also expressed ‘queasiness’ over the commercialization of orphan works.  Wolpert talked about the pricing model of Google Books.  She explained that individuals could subscribe, that libraries could have one dedicated terminal with access to the Google Books project, or libraries could subscribe to the entire corpus.  She took issue with the undefined pricing, which Dan Clancy said would adjust to the market.  Wolpert’s key point was that libraries have been burned in the past by publishers who had a monopoly on literature in specific fields.  She also made the point that libraries have paid some of the costs in the development of the corpus that is Google Books, as well as taxpayers supporting public libraries.

Personally, I agree with the points made.  Regarding orphan works, it is my understanding that identifying, digitizing and making acccessible more orphan works is to the greater good of society (and will ultimately help to identify previously unknown copyright holders).  However, the difference between a project like the Open Library Project through the Open Content Alliance and Google Books is that the latter seeks a profit.  My lingering question is to those libraries that signed up with Google Book Project.  Did they think about the greater long term ramifications to society of one business potentially controlling 40 million volumes of our nation’s great libraries, before making a deal with a company whose philosophy Hal Abelson claims, is “Manifest Destiny”?