Opening the Book

Peter Brantley & Gary Reback

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One of the most significant developments in the history of publishing could be co-opted by the settlement of a class action lawsuit that creates an unprecedented monopoly and price fixing cartel. Just as Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press more than 700 years ago ushered in a new era of knowledge sharing, the mass digitization of books promises to revolutionize how we read and discover books. But a digital library controlled by a single company and small group of publishers would inevitably lead to higher prices and subpar service for consumers, libraries, scholars, and students.

A proposed settlement to a class action lawsuit settlement among Google, the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and the Authors’ Guild threatens to monopolize the access to and distribution and pricing of the largest digital database of books in the world, cornering much of the value of book digitization and reserving it to the private parties that have negotiated what is essentially both a new policy and a business model governing access to this material without input from appropriate government officials or the public. This is unacceptable.

Unlike the proposed settlement, there are proper, fair ways to make the promised digital future for books a reality. Today, we are launching the Open Book Alliance to insist that any mass book digitization and distribution effort be open and competitive.  It must be undertaken in the open, grounded in sound public policy, and mindful of the need to promote long-term benefits for consumers rather than isolated commercial interests.

A wide range of professional, academic, and corporate organizations have significant concerns about the settlement proposal. True, we all fundamentally support the effort to expand the availability of knowledge through the digitization of books. But the proposed settlement, in substance and process, is not the way to do it.

By bringing together diverse organizations such as Amazon, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, the Internet Archive, Microsoft, the New York Library Association, Small Press Distribution, the Special Libraries Association, and Yahoo!, the Open Book Alliance will counter the special deal the proposed settlement creates for Google and the parties that have agreed to its proposed settlement, and will promote fair and flexible solutions aimed at achieving  a more robust and open system.

Many startling challenges to copyright and competition policy lie buried in the settlement’s 300+ pages. The Open Book Alliance will inform policymakers and the public about the serious legal, competitive, and policy issues in the settlement proposal, including:

  • The settlement is bad for consumers and book-lovers – It deliberately thwarts competition in the emerging e-books market, creating a digital book monopoly that will inevitably lead to fewer choices and higher prices for consumers of digital books.  It would allow a group of erstwhile competitors to collectively set prices and leave Google as the only company with a the right to copy, display or sell digital versions of orphan works (books for which authors or rights holders cannot be identified or located).  Consumers would be better served by a competitive market for digital books that is available to everyone on non-discriminatory terms.  The settlement also contains no privacy commitments to ensure that Google doesn’t use its awareness of what books people are reading to make unfair profit, or doesn’t share its intimate knowledge with commercial interests or governments. Finally, the settlement is carefully structured to ensure that all of the digital content will be available to Google and Google’s search engine.  This will enhance and reinforce Google’s already dominant market power in the internet search market while making the digital books less available and less findable by users of other search engines.
  • The settlement is bad for libraries and schools: While a handful of large and well-funded university libraries participated in the Google book-scanning effort, many other educational institutions and libraries will be forced to pay monopoly prices for access to a wide swath of knowledge, straining already-stretched budgets and creating a system of haves and have-nots in our nation’s education system. Community libraries would get at a single terminal to Google’s private book database, and libraries serving our nation’s children in K-12 schools would get absolutely nothing. The settlement widens the digital divide by limiting access to digital books in financially hard-hit communities that have budget-constrained libraries.
  • The settlement is bad for authors and small publishers: Unless they act to opt out of the proposed settlement by Google’s deadline, authors and other writers lose rights to the fruits of their labor—a future in which they have no negotiating rights for the value of their work. Moreover, the proposed settlement would line the pockets of a handful of lawyers, who collectively would receive more than $45 million, at the expense of millions of authors and small publishers upon whose creativity and hard work the private book monopoly would be built.
  • The settlement sets a dangerous and unprecedented process precedent. The proposed settlement far exceeds the bounds of a typical legal settlement. It privatizes important copyright and public policy decisions. It abuses class action procedure to create an exclusive joint venture between Google, AAP and the Authors’ Guild, strengthening Google’s dominance in search and search advertising and creating a private monopoly for the sale of digitized books.

If you are interested in joining the Open Book Alliance or if you are interested in receiving regular updates on this important issue, contact us through our Web site. And stay tuned to this space for more information as the Open Book Alliance fights to make the promise of digital books a reality that benefits all, not just a select few.

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  • 46 Responses for "Opening the Book"

    1. Amee Schmidt (Associate Editor) and Judith Kerman (Publisher) August 26th, 2009 at 12:33 pm #1

      Hi there –

      We are a small publishing company, Mayapple Press, based in Michigan. http://www.mayapplepress.com

      This Google settlement is particularly problematic for small presses. What should we do? We fully support the efforts of the Open Book Alliance, but are hesitant about opting out of the Google settlement. If if goes through (let’s hope it doesn’t) then we’re at a huge marketing disadvantage.

      I guess the question is, what can we, as a small press, do to help avoid the Google monopoly?

      Thank you for your hard work, and all best,

      Amee Schmidt
      Associate Editor
      Mayapple Press

    2. Open Book Alliance Throws Book at Google [Digital Daily] | TECHNICK August 26th, 2009 at 2:31 pm #2

      [...] the court reviewing the settlement approaching, we’re likely to hear increasingly more cries that the settlement is bad for consumers, libraries, schools, authors and publishers. Leave a comment Related Posts, VideoBoola, Boola!: Yahoo Marketing Head’s Cheerleading Memo [...]

    3. evan1138 August 26th, 2009 at 2:50 pm #3

      So shrill, so repellent, so insubstantial.

    4. Nobody August 26th, 2009 at 3:20 pm #4

      Can’t you all just get along :P

    5. Tech Whiz Underground » Open Book Alliance Throws Book at Google August 26th, 2009 at 3:24 pm #5

      [...] With a Sept. 4 deadline for submissions to the court reviewing the settlement approaching, we’re likely to hear increasingly more cries that the settlement is bad for consumers, libraries, schools, authors and publishers. [...]

    6. Joseph McGovern August 26th, 2009 at 3:46 pm #6

      Hello,
      I do not mean to dwell on minutiae, but your opening statement about the invention of the printing press is flat wrong. The moveable type press was invented in approximately 1450 (there is a debate about the exact year), that is less than 600 years ago, not “more than 700″ as your opening states. If you lead with a factual error, how do expect anyone to take the rest of your website seriously? I teach college and business writing and that error would get an F- in my class.
      Joseph McGovern

    7. Former anti-Microsoft lawyer sets his sights on Google’s book deal | TechDozer.Com August 26th, 2009 at 4:02 pm #7

      [...] and the Internet Archive’s Peter Brantley have posted an essay, “Opening the Book,” that’s better than its title implies. Here’s my 150-word boildown of the part [...]

    8. Tech News World » Former anti-Microsoft lawyer sets his sights on Google’s book deal August 26th, 2009 at 4:50 pm #8

      [...] and the Internet Archive’s Peter Brantley have posted an essay, “Opening the Book,” that’s better than its title implies. Here’s my 150-word boildown of the part [...]

    9. andrew August 26th, 2009 at 4:57 pm #9

      I expect that the Alliance will be digitizing books on its own? Interested to know your expected delivery date of your digitized library.

    10. Former anti-Microsoft lawyer sets his sights on Google’s book deal | August 26th, 2009 at 4:59 pm #10

      [...] and the Internet Archive’s Peter Brantley have posted an essay, “Opening the Book,” that’s better than its title implies. Here’s my 150-word boildown of the part [...]

    11. peta August 26th, 2009 at 5:42 pm #11

      Im a student at university in Australia. My degree requires alot of reading and quite a bit of research that surrounds digging up ramdom texts for assignments. I was unaware about the technology of these digital books and thought i had come up with a fabulous idea to create such a device!
      Brainstorming my ‘new idea’ to my boyfriend , he quickly let me know that they already existed! I visioned for something similar to the current models, however i was surprised it wasnt a little better. I can see some simple modifications that would make these books more appealing.
      Reading this article opens up a whole can of worms.
      I was excited that this technology is available , if all could afford a ‘Dbook’ there would be so many positives; environmental/space efficiency/literature access, etc. However the monopolization of the digital library will restrict the technologies full potential,also attracting a competitor to undercut the big brands and illegal uploading.
      I hope these people relise that if they make these technologies finacially obtainable to all ,they would in turn potentially make astronomical profits.

    12. Zach August 26th, 2009 at 7:02 pm #12

      If I can paint with a broad stroke for a moment, I am not sure it is entirely appropriate for an initiative headed by Microsoft and Yahoo to speak about what is “best” for consumers. Microsoft in particular has a long history of practices that slow innovation and thwart healthy competition. This is documented in various venues, including courtrooms in several countries. Also, as a layman’s observation, it is hard not to see the Internet Archive’s objections as sour grapes. Having worked for a non-profit digital library with it’s own great ambitions to host and freely distribute a major portion of the world’s literature (East Asian literature in this case), I rather appreciate that Google is using its resources to quickly materialize a similar goal. Yes, there are areas of concern and these need to be addressed (authors concerns certainly, your so-called –and very poorly argued– data for “AI” objection), but I think it is important to make a distinction between the competing motivations of big corporations and the rights of individual authors.

    13. matt August 27th, 2009 at 1:07 am #13

      thank you!

    14. Fence Portal » Blog Archive » Google doesn’t love you yet August 27th, 2009 at 10:21 am #14

      [...] SPD’s blog post of the OBA’s mission statement (incredibly concise and well-crafted) for information about the [...]

    15. Scratching His Head August 27th, 2009 at 5:19 pm #15

      Please explain how a non-exclusive deal is anti-competitive. Any other company, institution or individual can ink their own deals to scan and publish books online with the Author’s guild. Offering a more compelling and affordable product is the best way to secure against any monopolistic threat, if any really exists.

    16. Open Book Alliance vs Google Books « Entangled August 27th, 2009 at 7:33 pm #16

      [...] settlement, which is called Open Book Alliance. This alliance later posted its objections on its new website, claiming that the [...]

    17. Open Book Alliance Against Google Books Deal « Entangled August 27th, 2009 at 8:00 pm #17

      [...] settlement, which is called Open Book Alliance. This alliance later posted its objections on its new website, claiming that the [...]

    18. Gerald August 28th, 2009 at 11:18 pm #18

      This site is BS! Google is one of the most honest companies out there, with a mission to make day to day life less stressful for all of us. Microsoft on the other hand always pumps out misleading commercials and operating systems that don’t really benefit anyone for the money. Amazon, okay, I give them credit, they are pretty good, but they need competition to make them the best (they have no competition, so no new innovations are being rushed). Finally, Yahoo just plain sucks. They got rid of the best music player on the planet, then put up a terrible search site. They really just need to go out of business already.

      Note to Microsoft: Stop worrying about searches, worry about Windows and Windows Mobile ( I love your Operating Systems, up to XP, but you really need to start focusing on 7. Face it, Vista was terrible. If you don’t want the future of computers to be Linux (mac has no potential), then FOCUS on the big idea, not some side project that sucked in the beginning and always will (your search engine). Hell, why don’t you focus on Windows Mobile as well. You’re already at the point that if you don’t release a new system soon, you’ll lose the Mobile phone race.

    19. anon August 29th, 2009 at 1:24 am #19

      Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press in 1439, ie 570 years ago, not over 700.

    20. Karen September 3rd, 2009 at 2:06 pm #20

      As a newly published author I hold the copyrights to my books, so I don’t want those rights to be controlled by anybody else other than myself. This is typical of big corporations to sit back and see where the technology is going, let the little people do all the ground work, and then jump in right before it takes off to reap all the profit. I say find a common ground amongst all those concerned, and start from there, no more monopolies. What right does Google have to just waltz in and say ‘Ok, let me be in charge of the worlds literary works’. Histories ‘book burnings’ was one way to control what the common people could read; now the controling of digital books is another way, keep the people stupid.

    21. Comments on Google Book Search Settlement Coming to a Head (Again) September 4th, 2009 at 1:29 pm #21

      [...] odd group of bedfellows has also gotten togetherL7 to oppose the settlement. Called the “Open Book AllianceL8“, it is made up of (at the [...]

    22. Colin Crawford September 4th, 2009 at 4:21 pm #22

      The invention of moveable type was much earlier

      http://www.computersmiths.com/chineseinvention/movtype.htm

      however, the Gutenburg presses in the 15th century brought mass market printing to the West.

    23. Samuel J. Lindendorfer September 5th, 2009 at 10:20 pm #23

      Contrary to what they say on the Google website – the word ‘google’ may not be trademarked or copyrighted because it is a pre-established dictionary word.

      The unique artwork of “Google” may be copyrighted, but not the word.

      see p. 813 of the 1955 Oxford Universal Dictionary …. “google” is one of a family of “google-type” words relating to the game of cricket

      for some reason ???? this definition is “sanitized” off the internet (by Google ?)

      if you want a scan of the dictionary entry, email 4714026@optonline.net and a photo-scan of the dictionary entry will be emailed to you

      or, just get a copy of the 1955 Oxford Universal Dictionary and look on p.813

    24. Google Book Settlement Link Dump Awesomeness at pureinformation.org September 7th, 2009 at 2:43 pm #24

      [...] Open Book Alliance: Opening the Book [...]

    25. TumbleTech » Will Privacy Concerns Kill Google Books Settlement? September 8th, 2009 at 12:10 pm #25

      [...] the settlement on the grounds that Google is violating author rights, and Yahoo and Microsoft oppose the settlement for fear of a price fixing cartel, the latest objection adds new [...]

    26. Will Privacy Concerns Kill Google Books Settlement? | Spin Valley Post September 8th, 2009 at 12:31 pm #26

      [...] the settlement on the grounds that Google is violating author rights, and Yahoo and Microsoft oppose the settlement for fear of a price fixing cartel, the latest objection adds new [...]

    27. Will Privacy Concerns Kill Google Books Settlement? | Techdare September 8th, 2009 at 1:11 pm #27

      [...] the settlement on the grounds that Google is violating author rights, and Yahoo and Microsoft oppose the settlement for fear of a price fixing cartel, the latest objection adds new [...]

    28. Will Privacy Concerns Kill Google Books Settlement? | TechTerminal September 8th, 2009 at 2:01 pm #28

      [...] the settlement on the grounds that Google is violating author rights, and Yahoo and Microsoft oppose the settlement for fear of a price fixing cartel, the latest objection adds new [...]

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The mass digitization of books promises to bring tremendous value to consumers, libraries, scholars, and students. The Open Book Alliance will work to advance and protect this promise. And, by...

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What Experts Are Saying About the Settlement…

Important Dates

December 14, 2009
Notice begins

January 28, 2010
Deadline for authors to opt out of the settlement

January 28, 2010
Deadline to file objections and/or amicus briefs

February 4, 2010
Deadline to file notice of intent to appear at Fairness Hearing

February 4, 2010
DOJ response

February 11, 2010
Plaintiffs move for final approval

February 18, 2010
Final Fairness Hearing

March 31, 2011
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