Monday, May 25, 2009

Google Attempts to Placate Its Library Community

Sometimes you read news and can go straight to the core point and understand it other its like treading through treacle and you have top think hard what they are trying to say. So when the University of Michigan announced an amended deal with Google over its scanning programme we were perplexed on many fronts.

Some would say that Google is now bringing the libaries into the agreement albeit once more by their favoured back door. Others that its Google’s attempts to placate criticism, potential justice department eyes and win over the confused masses still trying to understand the settlement deal. Whichever the driver is we then have the agreement.

Sergey Brin, a Google co-founder and its president of technology is widely reported claiming opposition to the settlement is “pretty short- sighted and contradictory…There was no option prior to this to get these sorts of books online.”

The new agreement, which Google hopes other libraries will endorse, lets the University of Michigan and any of the other 21 US institutions that lend books to Google for scanning object if it thinks the prices Google charges libraries are too high. Any pricing dispute would be resolved through arbitration.

The new agreement also gives the university, and any library that signs a similar agreement, a discount on its subscription proportional to the number of books it contributes to Google’s mass digitization project. To rub the point home, Michigan will receive Google’s service free for 25 years and is hardly ever going to complain about anything. Some may see it as saying ‘I scan your books you get them cheap I don’t you pay my rates and can’t object.’

The new agreement does not cover the issue of orphan works and privacy of readers of Google’s digital library. Importantly it starts to raise the question of whose the library are we


Michael W. Perry said...

The behavior of this select group of 22 university libraries keeps getting more bizarre.

Initially, they appear to have assumed that having even a single copy of a book in their collection meant they could make as many (digital) copies as they pleased. There are only two ways of explaining this "copying doesn't violate copyright" reasoning.

1. They believed copying is illegal only if you don't have a copy. Since it's difficult to imagine how anyone could believe you could copy without a copy, we'll pass that by with averted eyes. Surely they can't be that stupid.

2. They believed that copying illegal only if you're the one who pays the penalty. This makes more sense. It assumes these select libraries joined Google's scheme because Google would cover the legal costs and bear any penalties, which it has. In this scenario, they retain their intelligence by sacrificing their integrity.

Ah, but they're now caught in the trap called 'no honor among thieves.' Having joined in a conspiracy to rip-off authors and publishers, they concerned that they may get ripped-off. Google could earn back its legal expenses and more by the fees it imposes on them, leaving them in a worse situation than if they'd have gone it alone.

So what do they do? That's the genius of this new contract. These libraries not only get Google's services at free or reduced rates, they become the foxes who guard the hen houses. They are the ones who 'ensure' that Google doesn't charge the other libraries too much.

In short, honor among thieves is maintained by finding new victims.

Martyn Daniels said...

Michael i like the analogy of the foxes and the hen house. The big question remains the orphans who everyone says are not important in terms of wealth and some say have been over estimated in number but remain in the jaws of the fox whilst everyone looks after themselves.