In October of 2004, Google announced that it would be adding book search to its search engine, under the name Google Print. In December of 2004, Google announced that it would be digitizing the collections of several libraries and adding their books to its search engine, as well as making the scans of some of the books available to the public. In September of 2005, a bunch of people sued Google over what had become the Google Books project, which aimed to scan a bunch of libraries' collections and make them available at least for search online, and perhaps for browsing, reading, and download. Litigation ensued. In October of 2008, a settlement was announced, and in November of 2009 a a revised settlement was announced, amended largely over antitrust concerns. Here is Google's take on the revised settlement. In December of 2009, author Ursula K. Le Guin resigned from the Authors' Guild over its acceptance of the Google Books settlement agreement, and a number of other noted authors followed suit. Between the beginning of the suit and the settlement, Google scanned a lot of libraries' collections, some of which are available under various terms on their website and in their search results.
What's all the fuss about? The Public-Interest Book Search Initiative at the New York Law School has compiled a list of objections to the settlement and the response to those objections, if any, in the revised settlement. The EFF is against it on privacy grounds. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the National Writers Union, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors are opposed to it under the consortium name of the Open Book Alliance, and offers this list of ways it fails to meet their requirements.
It's a huge issue, and I can hardly do it justice with a single blog post. Implicit in it are arguments about copyright, monopoly power, international relations, and privacy issues. I am myself torn — on the one hand, I'm a nonprofessional librarian and dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of knowledge, a reader and a lover of books; and on the other hand, I'm keenly aware that the books I so love wouldn't exist if authors and publishers weren't able to make a living off their work. It's possible that some of the objectors are right, and legislation rather than litigation is the right way to tackle this issue, though there's no less sausage-making on display there than in the judicial process. In short, I don't know what the right thing is to do.
I have some more concrete personal thoughts on aspects of the settlement, but it's late and I'm tired, so that will be the topic of my next blog post. Until then, here are a couple pictures of how I spent Saturday afternoon:
0: ^ Full disclosure: I've been trying to get Google Books to scan the MITSFS collection, and am engaging in other scanning projects so I am neither a disinterested party nor blameless in this.
N: ^…since footnotes appear to be the Iron Blogger secret ingredient this week.
N+1: ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Chef#Theme_ingredients
Edit: The second post of this series is available here.
Edit: The third post of this series is available here.