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Friday, 9th October 2009

Google Co-Founder, Sergey Brin, Has Op-Ed Published in New York Times

In an op-ed column titled, "A Library to Last Forever," Sergey Brin shares his views on the Google Book Search project. The piece runs two pages. Here are a few passages:

There has been some debate about the settlement, and many groups have offered their opinions, both for and against. I would like to take this opportunity to dispel some myths about the agreement and to share why I am proud of this undertaking. This agreement aims to make millions of out-of-print but in-copyright books available either for a fee or for free with ad support, with the majority of the revenue flowing back to the rights holders, be they authors or publishers.

For those books whose rights holders have not yet come forward, reasonable default pricing and access policies are assumed. This allows access to the many orphan works[*] whose owners have not yet been found and accumulates revenue for the rights holders, giving them an incentive to step forward.

I wish there were a hundred services with which I could easily look at such a book; it would have saved me a lot of time, and it would have spared Google a tremendous amount of effort. But despite a number of important digitization efforts to date (Google has even helped fund others, including some by the Library of Congress), none have been at a comparable scale, simply because no one else has chosen to invest the requisite resources. At least one such service will have to exist if there are ever to be one hundred.

Much More Including Reaction After the Click

Last, there have been objections to specific aspects of the Google Books product and the future service as planned under the settlement, including questions about the quality of bibliographic information, our choice of classification system and the details of our privacy policy. These are all valid questions, and being a company that obsesses over the quality of our products, we are working hard to address them — improving bibliographic information and categorization, and further detailing our privacy policy. And if we don’t get our product right, then others will. But one thing that is sure to halt any such progress is to have no settlement at all.

Source: New York Times

Though they're not Google (in terms of number of number of books digitized to this point, could they be?), our one comment for now is not to forget that there are many companies, libraries, and non-profits digitizing books and other print material. Book digitization is not new. Michael Hart and Project Gutenberg have been around for 38 years. A few months ago The World Library offered free access to over 2.5 book titles aggregated from a number of sources. In June, the Chronicling America program, where they're digitizing historic newspapers, passed the one million page mark. To see the wide variety of organizations digitizing content, just look at the "New Listings" section of the Online Books Page. Finally, even books for kids are in the mix with the International Childrens Digital Library with one of the coolest search interfaces we've ever seen.

Comments on the Op-Ed

1) “Beacon of Compromise” Attempts to Blind Reality (via the Open Book Alliance

Here's a portion of the OBA post:

As the Open Book Alliance has said consistently, we applaud the idea of making books searchable, readable, and downloadable. The digitization of books has the potential to unlock huge volumes of our shared cultural knowledge.

But there is a right way and a wrong way to accomplish this goal. And the proposed Google Book Settlement is clearly the wrong way. This is not just us and hundreds of other groups saying this; the Department of Justice has made it clear that the settlement does not pass muster.

Interestingly, Google and its partners acknowledged as much when they took the original settlement off the table. Now it appears that Brin and Google’s partners are saying that the previous settlement proposal was just fine, that there will be no fundamental changes that address any of the myriad significant concerns.

When Brin states that “In reality, nothing in this agreement precludes any other company or organization from pursuing their own similar effort,” he is either forgetting or blatantly disregarding the Department of Justice’s opinion on the subject.

What we can take from Brin’s column today, and other statements by Google and its partners, is that they have no intention of addressing or correcting any of the fundamental flaws found in their initial settlement agreement. Which lends credence to the belief that Google isn’t in this for the public good, but rather for its own private interests.

2) On Wednesday (before the Op-Ed was published), Brewster Kahle, from the Internet Archive and the Open Content Alliance responded to verbal remarks made by Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt. Here's a small chunk of Kahle's response.

Google Founder Sergey Brin said: “[T]he companies that are making objections about out of print books are doing nothing for out of print books, MSFT and Amazon.”

This is twisted at best. There are around 400 objections to the settlement objecting to Google’s treatment of out-of-print books– companies, libraries and even countries. And many of us are objecting because we have been working together for years on the mass scanning of out-of-print books– and have worked to get books online for far longer than Google– and Google’s “settlement” could hurt our efforts. A major part of our efforts have concentrated on changing the law so everyone would benefit.

The Internet Archive’s effort to free “orphan works” (a name that I coined in the books context for when the rightsowner is unknown or not available to negotiate for use of the work), had been an active project for years before Google announced they were scanning library books. As early as 2002 the Archive was participating in the Million Books project when we acquired a hundred thousand books for scanning. Because many of these books wound up being orphans, their digitization was partial and significantly delayed. Today, the Million Books project holds over 1.4 million books that have been scanned at public expense, but are not publicly viewable because of the lack of clarity on orphan works.

3) Professor James Grimmelmann (NY Law School) Who Has Been Following and Writing About the Case Writes on The Laboratorium (his site):

The op-ed is a piece of rhetoric, and has to be accepted as such...What is truly strange, though, is that Brin is giving a ringing defense of the settlement as it now stands. Did no one on the Google Book Search team forward him the memo about renegotiating the settlement in light of the antitrust concerns?

See Also: TechCrunch: Settling The Google Book Debate and Other Unicorn Fantasies


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