Google co-founder Sergey Brin has taken to the editorial pages of the New York Times to pen a defense of his company’s book settlement. Struck a year ago, the settlement recently went into renegotiations after much opposition from various groups complaining to the Department of Justice.
Much of the opposition has surrounded the concern that the settlement would give Google some exclusive rights. Google has maintained that authors would be free to negotiate with other online entities as well. Brin reiterated that defense in his Op-Ed:
Some have claimed that this agreement is a form of compulsory license because, as in most class action settlements, it applies to all members of the class who do not opt out by a certain date. The reality is that rights holders can at any time set pricing and access rights for their works or withdraw them from Google Books altogether. 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.
Others have questioned the impact of the agreement on competition, or asserted that it would limit consumer choice with respect to out-of-print books. In reality, nothing in this agreement precludes any other company or organization from pursuing their own similar effort. The agreement limits consumer choice in out-of-print books about as much as it limits consumer choice in unicorns. Today, if you want to access a typical out-of-print book, you have only one choice — fly to one of a handful of leading libraries in the country and hope to find it in the stacks.
Brin closed his editorial with a reminder that books and libraries throughout history have been destroyed. He made an impassioned plea to preserve books online, so that further destruction can be avoided.