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Google Print For Libraries Proves Challenging

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Details, details-such is the Achilles’ Hell of the visionary temperament. When Google put forth a massive online literary digitization effort, the scholar, the literati, the purist self-educator, the mousey, bucked-toothed, four-eyed little girl in all of us cheered the soon-to-be nearer reach of all those words. But visions, especially the grandiose, face the speed bumps, the hurdles, of real world logic-or worse, lawyers.

Google Print For Libraries Proves Challenging
Google Print Faces Copyright Hurdles

Editor’s Note:  Google Print for Libraries has opened a Pandora’s Box of copyright issues with publishers around the world. Google says everything is covered under the provisions of Fair Use, the original publisher agreements in Print for Publishers, and the ruling Kelly v. Arriba Soft. Publishers dispute all of Google’s assertions. Do you think Google has covered all its bases? Or are the publishers entitled to a separate, collective agreement despite what the library, as is, could do for business? Discuss at WebProWorld.


Two major associations of publishers have sent letters to Google demanding the cessation of the digitization project that involves scanning the entire text of copyrighted material until all pertinent questions are answered and a collective copyright agreement can be reached.

One letter, written by Peter Givler, executive director of the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) on behalf his organization and several others, claims that Google Print for Libraries was sneaked in under provisions for the enthusiastically received Google Print for Publishers. But, goes the letter, the library project was never mentioned in meetings about the Print for Publishers program and news of the project was a huge surprise to everyone.

“News of Google Print for Libraries came as a complete surprise. It had not been mentioned by Google representatives during any of the discussions they were having with our members, and Google’s subsequent explanations of Google Print for Libraries have only increased that confusion and transformed it into mounting alarm and concern at a plan that appears to involve systematic infringement of copyright on a massive scale.”

The letter outlines 16 pointed questions the respective associations would like answered.

The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), a non-profit trade association representing 300+ publishers in more than 30 countries, wrote their own nasty letter to Google. In it, Chief Executive Sally Morris contends that the project is not covered by Fair Use/Fair Dealings, and requests a collective agreement with publishers. Less detailed and more pointed than the AAUP letter, the letter contains some chastising remarks.

“We cannot believe that a business which prides itself on its cooperation with publishers could seriously wish to build part of its business on a basis of copyright infringement,” wrote Morris.

Quick Overview of Google Print for Libraries

Announced in December of 2004, Google plans to digitize the entire collections of several prominent US libraries and one English library. A ten-year, $200 million project, the online material would be donated for scanning from Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, Michigan University, and the New York Public Library.

Google says the goal is to provide a “virtual card catalog of all books in all languages,” while respecting authors and publishers’ copyrights.

The search giant addresses copyright issues with self-described “conservative” measures. All books published in the US before 1923 will be considered books in the public domain. The entire text of these books will be available online without worry of copyright infringement. Because of various international copyright laws, all books published outside the US before 1900 will be considered public domain.

As for books published after 1923 in the US and after 1900 outside the US, Google plans to provide “snippets” of text related to a search term. If a searcher wishes to have a complete copy of the book, the service will provide links to libraries and booksellers where the book can be found.

So What’s All The Fuss About?

At first glance it would appear that Google has its bases covered here. They cite a precedent ruling, Kelly v. Arriba Soft, which allows search engines to index copyrighted images already on the web. And as only snippets of copyrighted material are provided along with a link to where the book can be purchased, one may conclude that the library would be good for business in the same way that Google Print for Publishers is good for business. After all, they use the same search-snippet-to-vendor-link method.

According to the publishers, the difference is that they’ve been left out of the process here and they’re crying foul when Google says the library project is under the same umbrella of principles as the publisher project.

Peter Givler says that while Google’s effort is “enormously seductive,” it has the fundamental flaw of a process that involves the mass copying of copyrighted material.

“Copyright means the right to make copies, period,” Givler. “Copyright law can seem pretty byzantine and technical and elaborate and complicated, but at its simplest, that’s what it is. It’s the right to make copies.”

Sally Morris concurs. “The law does not permit wholesale copying (which is what digitisation is) by a commercial organisation of works that are still in copyright,” she wrote. “It is also illegal to make those works available digitally once they have been copied.”

Not only is it the legality of physically copying the material that concerns the publishers, it’s what happens after they’ve been copied.

“Nobody has convinced us that this can’t be hacked,” says Kay Murray general counsel for the Authors’ Guild.

Though the piracy concern doesn’t seem to have been addressed, Google denies that it has not attempted to work with publishers on the matter.

Adam M. Smith, a senior business-product manager for Google said, “We’ve actually gone out of our way to speak with everyone and have a very open, receptive conversation with [publishers]. We believe we’re creating a product that is beneficial to publishers and to libraries — that by allowing full-text search of the books that we would spur additional interest in books and in using books and in purchasing books in a way that will benefit all people that are interested in publishing generally.”

If Google is accused and found guilty of copyright infringement, the penalty is a $150,000 fine per infringement. In a digitization effort involving millions of books, that could add up to one big headache.

Google Print For Libraries Proves Challenging
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