“Beacon of Compromise” Attempts to Blind Reality

We read with great interest today’s New York Times op-ed column by Google’s Sergey Brin.  Brin argues that Google is doing the world a favor by making our cultural heritage, as it exists in books, available digitally.

In fact, the settlement that Brin trumpets as a “beacon of compromise” ultimately benefits Google and its partners, at the expense of people everywhere.

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. From DoJ’s brief:

“Nor is it reasonable to think that a competitor could enter the market by copying books en masse without permission in the hope of prompting a class action suit that could then be settled on terms comparable to the Proposed Settlement. Even if there were reason to think history could repeat itself in this unlikely fashion, it would scarcely be sound policy to encourage deliberate copyright violations and additional litigation as a means of obtaining approval for licensing provisions that could not otherwise be negotiated lawfully.”

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. And if you don’t agree with our assessment, you can take it directly from Google itself:

“We are not scanning all those books to be read by people …. We are scanning them to be read by [our] AI.”

–Google Engineer, quoted in Nicholas Carr, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World From Edison To Google (2008)

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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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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
Deadline to claim Books and Inserts

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