Update on the Google Books Settlement

A Report on a Panel Discussion at Rutgers University

Mary Beth Weber, Rutgers University

Rutgers University Libraries (RUL) and the School of Communication and Information (SCI), Rutgers University hosted a panel discussion on the Google Books settlement on April 30, 2009. The panel consisted of Nancy Kranich, Rutgers University (Kranich holds a joint appointment between RUL and SCI); Marlie Wasserman, Director, Rutgers University Press; James Masschaele, History Department, Rutgers University; and Robert Sewell, Associate University Librarian for Collection Development and Management, RUL.

Kranich chairs ALA’s Committee on Legislation Subcommittee on Copyright, and opened the discussion with a report on the status of the Google Books settlement. She noted that launched its project in 2004 with five library partners. The goal was mass digitization of 30 million books which they hoped to scan. The books were either public domain or under copyright. The plan was to show snippets of those books under copyright.

The authors sued for copyright infringement in 2005. Google, the Authors Guild, and the American Association of Publishers were involved in the lawsuit. This resulted in a three-hundred-page settlement document (actual settlement document is 141 pages and several supplements bring the total number of pages to 300). ALA’s Washington Office has provided a summary of the settlement and other documents (like the “Super-Simple Summary”) online.

The judge who presided over the trial that resulted in the October 2008 settlement died in May. A new judge is handling the case and has been granted a four-month extension. Anti-trust issues are currently being examined.

Kranich raised the question: What will the settlement mean to us as librarians? It allows Google to continue mass digitization (an estimated 15 million books). We will have better access to these books than was previously possible. Authors will be compensated for works that have already been digitized and there will be a charge for viewing; there will be a 63 percent compensation for authors and publishers. The agreement will create an independent Books Rights Registry (BRR) for authors and publishers. The BRR will make all decisions about the future of the project.

The Google Books Project will make 100 percent public domain books available. About 20 percent of those items are copyrighted but are also out of print. Arrangements must be made for authors to include in print and copyrighted materials. The settlement will also permit purchase of perpetual online access for about $1.29 to $29.99.

A Public Access Service (PAS) will be available to public and academic libraries. Access will be limited to one computer terminal per institution. Users can print for a fee, but will not be able to cut, paste, or annotate. There will be four levels of participation: fully participating libraries, cooperating libraries, public domain libraries, and other libraries. The disadvantage is that Google will have a monopoly over these materials. Both the quality of the scans and the metadata provided for them is not good.

Marlie Wasserman noted that the book world lags behind journals in terms of electronic access. The ease of migrating books under the settlement means that no money or file manipulation is required. This is an attractive option for publishers.

Lack of competition is one drawback of the settlement. Google holds a monopoly on electronic book databases. The settlement has placed a massive administrative burden on publishers. University presses in particular are in trouble as a result. The situation is no better for commercial publishers. The settlement may require them to get the approval of two thousand authors, for example. Google Partners can opt in to avoid the administrative burden. Under this agreement, the partners can display books.

James Masschaele questioned how Google Books offerings will be evaluated and their potential impact on the classroom. Seventy percent of Google Books are still under copyright but are out of print. Many of these books were written by academic authors. Most of them do not write with the hope of profit but do so to benefit scholarship. Masschaele noted that Google Books’ portability appeals to him. He expressed concern about the possible impact of Google Books on undergraduate education and teaching. Availability and pricing of books can be problematic. Masschaele closed by questioning what the settlement means for university libraries. This is a major consideration since they are chronically underfunded and understaffed. Google Books is a cheap solution to the problem.

Robert Sewell discussed how the settlement will affect collection development. If usage, pricing, etc. are based on full-time enrollment, Rutgers will lose. Google Books has only U.S. authors and publications, which is a problem for an academic research library. Sewell referenced a forthcoming ALA whitepaper that questions what the settlement will mean for the day to day operations of libraries.