Some Publishers Not Happy With Google’s Library Digitization Program

When I first learned about Google’s plan to digitize the full text holdings of several large libraries one of the first things that came to mind was the many copyright issues that would come from the publishing community. Well, here they come.

In March, the Harvard Crimson ran a story about copyright issues and the Google Library program

Today, two more articles about concerns coming from the publishing community over the program have been published.

The Chronicle of Higher Education and Business Week have articles about a recent letter sent by The Association of American University Presses (about 125 scholarly publishers) saying that the Google Library program, “appears to be built on a fundamental violation of the copyright act.” You can find the full text of the letter here. AAUP is requesting that Google respond to the letter by June 20th.

What seems to be of most concern to the publishers is the millions of books that Google plans to scan from library collections which are still in copyright.

Let’s review what Google Print/Google Library consists of.

+ Google is working with publishers to digitize new material that is shared directly from the publishers. Material will be full text searchable but each publisher determines how much of the book you can view during a visit.

Material will not be printable (yes, you could do screen caps for each page). All of this is very similar to what is doing with their Search Inside the Book program. All book entries will have direct links to online book merchants allowing users to purchase the full text.

+ Google Library Program
Launched in December, Google’s library program plans to digitize every book, both copywritten and public domain material held in several major library collections, and make is searchable via Google Print.

Several of the libraries that have joined the program are testing the program before committing to a full digitization. Regardless, if all goes as planned, scanning this massive amount of material will take many years.

What I think is most noteworthy is that library materials that are not out of copyright will be full text searchable online but not full text viewable. The searcher will only see a few sentences of text around the search term along with bibliographic info and links to purchase the actual book. In some cases, you’ll also see a link to access the book from a library. In this day and age, will people be willing to wait to get the book(s) via interlibrary loan (if a local library doesn’t have it) and more importantly, can libraries afford a large increase in the number of inter-library requests? Of course, also be in Google’s future plans to offer the downloadable full text of any book online.

If the library content is in the public domain then the full text will be viewable online. The dates that Google is using to determine public domain material vary. From the Google Library FAQ:

If you’re in the US, we’ve taken a very conservative stance and only books pre-1923 will be considered public domain. If you’re not in the US, only books pre-1900s can be considered public domain because of differing copyright laws internationally.

So, that’s the gist of it.

The Association of University Publishers says that simply scanning the copywritten material might be a copyright violation.

“Copyright means the right to make copies, period,” said Peter Givler, the university-press group’s executive director, in an interview. “Copyright law can seem pretty byzantine and technical and elaborate and complicated,” said Mr. Givler, who wrote the letter, “but at its simplest, that’s what it is. It’s the right to make copies…”It’s just a gigantic claim on its surface,” Mr. Givler said in the interview. “There are just a lot of questions that need to be answered.”

Google has also heard from UK’s, Publishers Association,
It sent a letter to Google in February that touches on many of the same points that the AAUP letter discusses. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that, “Google’s answers thus far have not been reassuring.” Business Week notes that John Wiley & Sons and Random House have also contacted Google about the library program.

Finally, comments from Lawrence Lessig at Stanford,

“For registered works it can be up to $150,000 per infringement,” says Lessig. “I don’t think any judge would do that because Google seems to be operating in good faith…but there’s a huge exposure.”

As I’ve pointed out many times, Google Print is hardly the only service making full text available. This post links to several of these other services. I also included a few in my original article about Google Library.

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