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Google Book Search Deal: Will the Prices be All Right?

Having suggested some conditions for the coming digital library of Alexandria, I should have commented on this Google deal earlier. But I’ve been way too busy to read the details in the proposed settlement. No one can doubt its importance–as Mike has said, we may be “seeing the early stages of the beginning of the end of copyright law as we know it.” Google’s side of the story can be found here, and I look forward to reading their and the Authors’ Guild’s accounts of it. For now, I’m worried by Harvard’s decision to criticize the deal and back out of Book Search:

“As we understand it, the settlement contains too many potential limitations on access to and use of the books by members of the higher-education community and by patrons of public libraries,” Harvard’s university-library director, Robert C. Darnton, wrote in a letter to the library staff. He noted that “the settlement provides no assurance that the prices charged for access will be reasonable, especially since the subscription services will have no real competitors [and] the scope of access to the digitized books is in various ways both limited and uncertain.” . . . . “For now,” the statement concluded, “the Harvard University Library will continue to explore other ways to open up its collections more broadly for the common good.”

I had thought that legislation would be an ideal way to assure that Google’s aspirations here best served the public interest–and that there would be a long time to think about how to do that well (for example, the Copyright Act of 1976 evolved over at least 16 years). But it now appears that this settlement may govern the dominant means of digital access to and distribution of books for a very long time–and that those who care about these issues will have to organize quickly if they want any input.