The Infinite Shelf

Friday, March 27, 2009


With Google having settled its copyright suit with authors and publishers, the company is now poised to be a modern Library of Alexandria with full texts of millions of titles online. Robert Darnton, director of the Harvard University Library, loves the access but wonders at what cost.

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Comments [7]

Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Brad and Jan, I have the advantage of having downloaded the podcast so I just listened, again, carefully enough to know that the quote from the settlement is "maximize revenues". There is a difference.

I understand Mr. Darnton's concerns but...Brooke, you were correct the first time (as Mr. Higginson points out above) that there are other sources for much material and, no, the "most favored nation" clause (as portrayed) does not prevent competition with Google or make it a monopoly. If someone gets access to the material on the same basis, it is their job, then, to somehow lower their other costs in such a manner as to provide it more inexpensively, so as to compete. Not so likely, but possible.

I do appreciate Darnton's 'future vision', an awareness that the Google of today will not be the Google of tomorrow in unpredictable ways. Still, having watched the inflation in the cost of college texts (especially in the sciences and engineering) as a course book clerk at the Yale Co-op for many years, I suspect that he has been burned so badly by the "cocaine pricing" in the academic publishing industry, including those journals he so obviously despises, (paired nicely with similar pricing in the higher education industry) that he isn't willing to give Goggle and the possible future competitor businesses an even break.

Apr. 01 2009 02:44 AM

Let's see. $125 million settlement. 34 million going to a registry that google runs so they get to pay themselves, 45 million goes to the lawyers for 2 1/2 years of work. That leaves 46 million for publishers. Will this money ever been seen by the actual authors? And what about the artists and photographers. They aren't part of the settlement and yet their images are freely shown on the books right now. And if you use the copyright law of 1978 as an example of a law that was supposed to collect funds from photocopy and distribute it to the artists and photographers but is gathered by a few groups that never distribute the money to the individuals, can we assume that this settlement will be any different.

Don't be fooled into thinking this is about the authors maximizing profits. Dig deeper.

Mar. 29 2009 04:30 PM
Brad from Omaha, Ne

Thanks for the engaging article on Google's Book Search!

While listening to Mr. Darnton's comments, I began to question who it was that was driving the issues that he was concerned about; "maximized profit" in particular. I checked your article online, and followed the link to Google's posting of the resolution, and my read of that indicates (Grantedit is Google's article) it is the authors, that profits will go to the Authors/Copyright holders and that "maximizing profit" has as much to do with encouraging continued sales of the physical books as it does with any profits derived from subscription to Google's Service.

Google's efforts in providing this service, and in working to achieve a resolution satisfying copyright are laudable. I think they should be recognized for how much they have done in a realm where boundaries need to be reexamined in light of constant changes in culture and technology.

Mar. 29 2009 01:08 PM
Katie from New York, NY

I am going to refer this piece to my Media Studies class at the New School. Please read my blog entry on Google's effect on knowledge: Thanks for interesting work every week OTM!

Mar. 29 2009 10:55 AM
David from Rhode Island

Brooke - You gave a list of three types of books (public, under copyright and in print, under copyright and out of print) and then referred to the 3rd type as the "latter category". It is the "last category"; in this type of situation latter is only used when there are two choices, a former and a latter. Once there are more than two, it is the "Xth" category or the "last" category. FYI.

Mar. 28 2009 07:15 PM
Thomas Higginson from Detroit, MI

Your piece gave Google as the only alternative for out of print books still under copyright. Has no one heard of used book stores? John King Books in Detroit, Powell's in Portland and Zubal's in Cleveland have millions of out-of-print books available for purchase. And, if you don't happen to live near these three giants, you can access their web sites and other used book search sites such as Abebooks, Alibris and even Amazon. There is another alternative.

Mar. 28 2009 08:12 AM

That was a superb NYRoB article, it's good to see it getting some attention.

Mar. 27 2009 08:33 PM

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