Toobin on Google’s Library Project

Jeffrey Toobin, in The New Yorker, provides an overview of the lawsuit against Google’s library project and predicts that Google will become impatient with the time it takes for the suit to work its way through the courts and will settle with publishers and the Author’s Guild.

Like most federal lawsuits, these cases appear likely to be settled before they go to trial, and the terms of any such deal will shape the future of digital books. Google, in an effort to put the lawsuits behind it, may agree to pay the plaintiffs more than a court would require; but, by doing so, the company would discourage potential competitors. To put it another way, being taken to court and charged with copyright infringement on a large scale might be the best thing that ever happens to Google’s foray into the printed word. . . .

But a settlement that serves the parties’ interests does not necessarily benefit the public. “It’s clearly in both sides’ interest to settle,” Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School, said. “Businesses in Internet time can’t wait around for years for lawsuits to be resolved. Google wants to be able to get this done, and get permission to resume scanning copyrighted material at all the libraries. For the publishers, if Google gives them anything at all, it creates a practical precedent, if not a legal precedent, that no one has the right to scan this material without their consent. That’s a win for them. The problem is that even though a settlement would be good for Google and good for the publishers, it would be bad for everyone else.”

Some interesting tidbits:

  • Google will not say how many books have been digitized. Why so coy? It’s hard to trust a company that won’t provide the most basic information.
  • Pat Schroeder, president of the AAP, says ““This is basically a business deal.” No problem from the publishers, so long as they get a piece of the action. Not that there is, to date, any actual action (i.e. profits).
  • “Piracy” is a concern for publishers, but Toobin points out “Sadly, for writers and publishers, demand for their products has never been robust enough to generate a major piracy problem.” And all the evidence to date suggests exposure of book content on the Web is good for sales.
  • Stanford scaled back its participation in the library project because, as a private institution, they are greater legal risk than public institutions like UMich (an issue that also influenced the AAP’s decision to go after Cornell on e-reserves).

Posted by Barbara Fister

Author: Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

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