Google Books Again. It Ain’t Over Till … Who Knows When?

Last Friday, after the week’s Media Mash-Up went online, Google and the Author’s Guild finally got preliminary approval for a revision to the Google Books Settlement in October that caused such worldwide controversy.  Some of the issues in question were addressed, and some were simply glossed over. And the date for a new agreement has been put off till February 18.  This agreement will, of course, give people who wouldn’t ordinarily have it, access to millions of out-of-print books.  But it might also grant Google a near-monopoly on what are called “orphan works”, those where the copyright holder cannot be found.  On the plus side, the revision now only applies to English-language books. Readers will be able to preview and purchase books, institutions can buy subscriptions, and libraries will have free access at designated terminals. The revised settlement limits Google’s future business models from the works to individual subscriptions, print-on-demand, and digital downloads. The company will need to get approval from a registry board and provide notice to all claiming copyright holders before implementing any of the business models. Still, says the EFF, “This is not just a simple market transaction between commercial entities. Google is building an enormously important public resource, a task it can only undertake with the blessing of a federal court. The public deserves a solution that is not “barely legal,” but that instead encourages real, robust competition. As written, without some modification or legislative adjunct, Settlement 2.0 does not do that.” Still, Google insists that it is performing good works by making missing books available to all, and they are.

In order to provide a well-rounded view of this issues, here’s a perfectly neutral overview of the revision from Cnet,  and the outlook as a result of the revision approval from the EFF.

I am reminded of an interview Ken Auletta did on the NewsHour earlier this week, discussing his book on Google.  And here’s what he said: one of the problems that Google has is that their great strength, as we talked about a moment ago, are engineers. That’s their virtue. Their vice is the flip side of that. Engineers lack emotional intelligence often. They don’t see things they can’t measure. For instance, they don’t know how to gauge fear. …Google is not acutely aware of why issues like privacy or copyright, both of which they — they affect profoundly, would be of concern, not just to the government, and not just this government, but governments all around the world, but to other businesses. … Google is not interested in killing the competition. They just want more efficiencies. But, inevitably, you do kill some of the companies. And there’s a social cost for that.

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