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Michigan Prez on Google Book Search

Well, someone reads this blog, I’m happy to say. I just received an email from an aide to University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman, attaching the full text of a speech that President Coleman delivered today to the Association of American Publishers. The title of the talk is “Google, the Khmer Rouge and the Public Good,” which gives you a sense of just how boring and typically academic it is. You can download the full text here. [pdf] A taste:

The Google Book project was announced with great fanfare in December 2004. The crux of this project was that great library collections would now be searchable for anyone in the world with an Internet connection.

The global library was under way. It was no longer a question of “whether,” but rather “how” and “when.”

New technologies and new ideas can generate some pretty scary reactions, and Google Book Search has not been immune. The project, for all that it promises, has been challenged: on the editorial page, across the airwaves, and, with your organization’s endorsement, in the court system.

It is this criticism of the project that prompted me to accept your invitation to speak — and explain why we believe this is a legal, ethical, and noble endeavor that will transform our society.

Legal because we believe copyright law allows us the fair use of millions of books that are being digitized. Ethical because the preservation and protection of knowledge is critically important to the betterment of humankind. And noble because this enterprise is right for the time, right for the future, right for the world of publishing, right for all of us.

The University of Michigan educates tens of thousands of students, and is home to faculty engaged in extraordinary work. We represent the citizens of Michigan and the citizens of the world. And we embody the aspirations of a society that looks to great public research universities for solutions, cures, and answers.

Those responsibilities and obligations make it abundantly clear to me, as president, that the Google project is a remarkable opportunity — and a natural evolution — for a university whose mission is to create, to communicate, to preserve and to apply knowledge.

This is, simply, what we do and why we exist.

There’s more.

Google Book Search complements our work. It amplifies our efforts, and reduces our
costs. It does not replace books, but instead expands their presence in the marketplace.

We are allowing Google to scan all of our books — those in the public domain and those
still in copyright — and they provide our library with a digital copy. We insisted on this
for one very important reason: Our library must be able to do what great research
libraries do – make it possible to discover knowledge.

The archive copy achieves that. This copy is entirely, and only, for preservation and
research. As for the public domain works, we will use them in every way possible.
For in-copyright works, we will make certain that they remain dark until falling into the
public domain.

Let me assure you, we have a deep respect for intellectual property — it is our number one
product. That respect extends to the dark archive and protecting your copyrights.

We know there are limits on access to works covered by copyright. If, and when, we
pursue those uses, we will be conservative and we will follow the law. And we will
protect all copyrighted materials — your work — in that archive.

Let me repeat that: I guarantee we will protect all copyrighted materials. I assure you we
understand that providing public access to materials in copyright, particularly those still
in print, would be unlawful. Merely because our library possesses a digital copy of a
work does not mean we are entitled to, nor will we, ignore the law and distribute it to
people to use in ways not authorized by copyright.

Believe me, students will not be reading digital copies of “Harry Potter” in their dorm

We will safeguard the entirety of this archive with the same diligence we accord our most
sensitive materials at the University: medical records, Defense Department data, and
highly infectious disease agents used in research.

At the same time, we absolutely must think beyond today. We know that these digital
copies may be the only versions of work that survive into the future. We also know that
every book in our library, regardless of its copyright status today, will eventually fall into
the public domain and be owned by society. As a public university, we have the unique
task to preserve them all, and we will.

Download and read the whole thing. Kudos to Mary Sue Coleman and the U of M for standing by the project.