Copyright War Summit Report: The Future of Google Book Search

11 June 2009

Google Policy Analyst Derek Slater presented on Google Book Search and its future.  In addition to explaining the Google Book Settlement (discussed here, with follow-ups here and here), Slater clarified the underpinnings of Google Book Search itself.  He also provided some interesting statistics on orphan works and the public domain.

For those following the Google Book Search Settlement controversy, the most interesting part of the presentation would probably be Slater’s discussion of how the Settlement makes competition easier rather than eliminating it (one of the biggest criticisms of the Settlement Agreement).

Book Search Sources

The books contained in Google Book Search come from two different projects.  One of these projects is undisputedly legit.  It is a Partnership Program in which authors and publishers contribute to Book Search by sending copies of their works to Google for scanning.  The authors and publishers have agreements with Google where they share the revenue from any advertising displayed alongside views of the scanned books.  Slater confirmed over 1.5 million books have been added to Google Book Search in this way.

The Library Project is a partnership not with publishers and authors, but with a number of libraries around the world.  Basically, the agreement is that Google scans the books and the libraries receive digital copies of their collections.  Google separates works in this project into two subdivisions: out of copyright and in copyright.  The in copyright books scanned from the Library Project are the cause of the controversy that led to the law suit and subsequent Settlement Agreement.

Facilitating Competition

Slater argues that the Google Book Search Settlement actually facilitates competing with Google Book rather than giving Google a monopoly.  In short, this is because Google is doing all the heavy leg work.  Google is helping to fund the registry that will contain information about who is willing to license and who is not, or under what circumstances someone is willing to license (assuming the settlement is approved). 

Google’s work will lead to less orphan works problems by increasing the number of claimed works.  This will help open up access to currently orphaned works for others wishing to compete.  Google’s work will also help clarify the status of older works, works whose creation date falls into the 40 year grey period created by various changes to the US Copyright Act.  Google believes that a great number of these works are actually in the public domain.  Once the status of a book is known, possible competitors will have an easier time accessing the book.

Google is also facilitating access for potential competitors by making copyright renewal records available for download.  Slater’s arguments address many of the concerns raised by those fearful of a monopoly of knowledge, except for one big one: competitors access to original copies of the books to scan.  Perhaps Google assumes competitors will just have to go through libraries as Google has for out-of-print works.  Will libraries be willing to partner with lesser-knowns or start-ups?

The full presentation goes into more detail and does a good job of explaining the Settlement and its perceived benefits.  If you are interested in details of the Settlement or the statistics on copyright and books, it’s worth a view.


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