Academics, Citing Public Interest, Plan To Intervene in Google Book Search Settlement

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While much mainstream news coverage of the pending Google Book
Search settlement has focused on the potential boon to researchers,
concerns raised by librarians and consumers have begun to hit critical
mass. One sign was a front-page article in the April 4 New York Times, headlined Google’s Plan for Out-of-Print Books Is Challenged, which noted that two sets of academics plan to intervene in the settlement.

Notably, the settlement gives Google essentially exclusive rights in
making available the bulk of the books it has digitized from libraries:
“orphan works,” those both in copyright but out of print, with the
rights holders unavailable. The article quoted Harvard University
librarian Robert Darnton’s warning about Google as monopoly; he
previously expressed fears that Google would use that monopoly power to raise prices while reselling the database to libraries.

As Google executives have told LJ previously, Google lawyer Alexander Macgillivray and Authors Guild attorney Michael Boni asserted to the Times
that prices would be reined in by the settlement agreement’s goal of
reaching as many customers as possible. (However, it also has the goal
of realization of revenue at market rates.)

More amicus briefs coming

While three library groups, including the American Library Association, had already planned to file amicus briefs to weigh in on the settlement, the Times
reported that other such briefs will be coming from the Institute for
Information Law and Policy at New York Law School and a group of
lawyers led by Harvard Law Professor Charles Nesson. The latter will
expressly address the orphan works issue.

The institute’s brief, according to Wired,
will request that the Court "solicit the opinions of the Anti-trust
Division of the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission."

Objections and comments can be filed until May 5. A hearing is to be held on June 11.

One commenter on the Times web site mused,
"Why doesn’t Google set up a non-profit, and call it Digitized Orphans,
or something like that? That way, they could recoup and protect their
investment while making the orphaned books available to the reading
public at cost — with quantity discounts for public institutions such
as libraries and universities."

Blame Microsoft?

In a blog post, Times reporter Miguel Helft wrote that Google pushed to reporters a Wired article headlined Who’s Messing With the Google Book Settlement? Hint: They’re in Redmond, Washington.

The reason: Microsoft has given $50,000 to the institute at New York
Law School noted above, though the money came well after academic James
Grimmelmann began offering a nuanced critique of the settlement. As
Helft observed, however, not only librarians but law professors have
raised questions about the settlement, notably at a recent conference
at Columbia University (which LJ covered here, here, and here).

Consumer Watchdog,
a public interest group in Southern California, also has asked the
Justice Department to intervene in the case to “serve the public
interest,” Helft noted.

Consumer Watchdog
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