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Google Slows Library Project to Accommodate Publishers
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Posted On August 15, 2005


Over the last several months, publishers have begun opposing the Google Print for Libraries program (http://print.google.com) and grumbling litigiously about copyright issues. After consulting with the publishing community, Google has responded to the opposition. It now offers what appear to be two carrots but what may actually turn out to be one carrot with a string attached and one carrot that could become a stick. While the publishers decide which to munch, Google will temporarily stop digitizing in-copyright books from its library partners and will concentrate, instead, on accelerating its public domain book digitization (defined as any book published before 1923 or ever published by the U.S. government). The moratorium will last until November. The new provisions offer all copyright holders the right to opt out of the program or, if they prefer to acquire saleable digital copies of their backlists via library-held copies, to get the same copies that the libraries get for their own publications.

The first sweetener consists of an offer to supply Google Print for Publishers participants with electronic copies of any of their books that are digitized via the library project for which the publisher has sent in a list of ISBNs. In other words, Google Print publishers will not have to suffer the expense or effort of shipping their books to Google Print in order to receive electronic copies and all of the benefits of Google promotion of that content—but the offer does require participation in the Google Print program. Previously, only participating libraries received electronic copies. The second sweetener—or bittersweet-ener—allows any copyright holder, whether a Google Print publisher or not, to block digitization for specific titles by transmitting an "exclusion" list of ISBNs to Google. One librarian who is ardently committed to the Google Print for Libraries project referred to such a list as "the database of shame."

Late in May, a group of publishers challenged the Google Print for Libraries program as a major breach of copyright. Oddly enough, the group was the Association of American University Presses (AAUP; http://www.aaupnet.org), a group of nonprofit, self-confessed niche market publishers whom, one might have thought, would have seen the Google Print program as ideal for broadening their market. (See "Google Library Project Hit by Copyright Challenge from University Presses," http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16195.) The Association of American Publishers (http://www.publishers.org), which represents commercial publishers primarily, and the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (http://www.alpsp.org) soon chimed in with similar objections. While none of the groups objected to Google Print for Publishers, where the publishers make the decision as to whether to join and what to contribute, the groups were alarmed at seeing their copyrighted content "shanghai-ed" into the program through the digitization of library book collections.

In announcing the new changes, Adam M. Smith, product manager for Google Print, still proclaimed Google's grand plan. "The goal of Google Print is ambitious: to make the full text of the world's books searchable by anyone in the world," wrote Smith. "We think that making books easier to find will have a positive impact on the world, and we welcome the challenge." Overall, Smith contends the response of the publishers has "in general been very positive." He also explained that Google had discussed the issues with its "G5" library partners (the University of Michigan, Harvard University, Stanford University, the New York Public Library, and Oxford University). "Librarians get it. They know that inclusion in Google is important." Google provides a "Find in a Library" link for Google Print results.

Change Details

As explained on the Google Print site, "Information for Publishers about the Library Project" (http://print.google.com/googleprint/publisher_library.html): "Our ultimate goal is to work with publishers and libraries to create a comprehensive, searchable, next-generation card catalog of all books in all languages that helps users discover new books and [helps] publishers find new readers." The list of benefits for Google Print publishers remains very lengthy. It even refers to the value of market research data collected for book titles, which allows publishers to track the number of people who look at a book's pages and/or click on the "Buy This Book" link, in order to decide whether the book might be worth reprinting (i.e., in paper and ink).

As Google's digitizing teams march through library shelves, they apparently don't stop to identify whether a book is already in their system as a contribution from a Google Print participating publisher. Under the new changes, a publisher can ask Google to use the copy they have sent or let the library copy suffice. Some publishers have expressed specific concerns about what the five participating libraries might do with the electronic copies that Google supplies them with as part of their contracts. (NYPL and Oxford restrict their Google digitization to public domain books only.) Publishers that participate in Google Print and that have sent in their books for digitization can now ask Google to not digitize a library copy. This will, in turn, prevent the library from getting a digital copy of that work back from Google. Clearly the benefits for publishers that join Google Print for Publishers and quickly get planeloads of books flying to California continue to grow.

Publishers who want to get electronic copies of their books digitized under the Library project copied into their own Google Print accounts merely have to add them to their book list. Once Google has digitized the item from one of its libraries, the book will appear in the publisher's account. Google warns publishers and copyright holders—whether Google Print publishers or not—who plan to send in lists of books they want excluded from the Library project that the list is final for the books coming in from the libraries. There will be no changing your mind and granting permission a year or two from now and expecting Google to go back to the libraries. Publishers or copyright holders who do change their minds and want their books included will have to supply Google with copies or PDF files.

The exclusion lists can come from any copyright holder—not just a publisher, but also from an author to whom the rights have reverted once the publisher lets the book fall out of print. Google requires a little more additional information just to verify the truth of the copyright claim. As pointed out in a May NewsBreak ("Google Library Project Hit by Copyright Challenge from University Presses," http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16195), standard book contracts include clauses that specify that the copyright and publishing rights revert to authors if publishers let the books go out of print. Specifics on the out-of-print status vary from contract to contract. Nonetheless, a legal expert with whom I spoke said that if an author of an out-of-print book could establish that the publisher had not only ceased printing and selling that book but had forbidden Google to put it back into saleable circulation, that would constitute "evidence of abandonment." The Google Print for Publishers program is open to any copyright holder. When I spoke with Gerard Colby, president of the National Writers Union (NWU), he seemed interested in examining the issues in the light of opportunities for authors to take advantage of the program, as well as in protecting their rights.

None of the new changes, according to Google, represent any concession that its library book digitization violates fair use under copyright law or any intellectual property principles. Google considers the book project to be similar to Web search. "In order to electronically index a Web page, you need to make a copy of it. In order to electronically index a book, we have to make a digital copy of the book." Google maintains the ultimate goal of the project is to "direct people to the books" and thus "increase the incentives for authors to write and publishers to sell books." Company representatives almost seem bemused by all the fuss. "Our experience with Web search is that many people ask to have their Web pages included in our search results, and very few ask to be excluded."

Publishers Still Edgy

Publishers responded to the announcement quickly. The Association of American Publishers (AAP) issued a press release in which president and CEO Patricia Schroeder stated: "Google's announcement does nothing to relieve the publishing industry's concerns. … Google's procedure shifts the responsibility for preventing infringement to the copyright owner rather than the user, turning every principle of copyright law on its ear. … Many AAP members have partnered with Google in its Print for Publishers Program, allowing selected titles to be digitized and searchable on a limited basis pursuant to licenses or permission from publishers. We were confident that by working together, Google and publishers could have produced a system that would work for everyone, and [we] regret that Google has decided not to work with us on our alternative proposal." The alternative proposal involved a 6-month moratorium. Schroeder said that they had made a lot of proposals but still have seen very little progress. Her members have a lot of concerns about the precedent.

The AAP announcement also seemed to criticize Google's motives for the project by pointing out the advertising revenue Google would gain. Actually, Google does not attach any ads to displays of book results, except those that benefit Google Print publishers and online bookstores. Ads only appear on the initial Web search page from which users can click through to book results; a royalty percentage of money from those ads goes to Google Print publishers.

In the meantime, Google digitization work at participating libraries seems to be proceeding rapidly. I spoke with one librarian working with Google who said that the library received its electronic digitized copies regularly every month and that the quality seemed to be good (speedy, too). Under the contract with Google, the library was guaranteed no more than 3 weeks between Google staff taking a book from the shelves to its return. The actual turnaround time is 8 days on average.


Barbara Quint is contributing editor for NewsBreaks, senior editor of Online Searcher, and a columnist for Information Today.

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