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Universities see promise in Google Book Search settlement

Stanford has joined with the University of Michigan and the University of California in supporting a proposed legal settlement that could allow their libraries to digitize millions of books through the Google Book Search project.

The proposed settlement, which was submitted Tuesday to the U.S. District Court in New York by Google Inc. and plaintiffs the Authors Guild Inc. et al., would expand public access to books by making them searchable via the Internet. The project would make it possible for the world’s greatest libraries, including the Stanford University Libraries, to preserve millions of books.

“This proposed settlement has far-reaching potential for making books more broadly available to the American public and higher education, and is consistent with Stanford’s mission of sharing knowledge,” said Provost John Etchemendy. “We are currently in negotiations with Google regarding Stanford’s participation. This proposed settlement is a very productive step, and we applaud it.”

Stanford joined the Google Library Project at its inception in 2004, and hundreds of thousands of the library’s holdings have already been added to the Google database, which currently allows full-text reading and downloading of books not in copyright. But book publishers and authors filed class action lawsuits alleging that Google had no right to scan books currently in copyright for any purpose. While the three university libraries were not parties in the lawsuit, Google requested extensive input from them on issues of importance to library and university communities.

“With other libraries, those of the University of California and the University of Michigan, we have been negotiating for almost two years with Google and the plaintiffs to shape this agreement for the public good,” said Michael A. Keller, Stanford university librarian, director of academic information resources, founder and publisher of HighWire Press and publisher of Stanford University Press. “We believe that the proposed settlement offers significant benefits for readers everywhere and, therefore, society as a whole, providing easy access to texts via Google to libraries throughout the country, and expanding dramatically the amount of material that can be freely read—not just searched—by the public.”

“I think this proposed settlement will break the logjam that has locked up orphan works for so many years,” said Walter Hewlett, a former trustee and member of Stanford’s ad hoc committee on the Google Book Search project, referring to books that are long out of print, unlikely to be reprinted and for which no copyright holder can be found.

Under the agreement, Google will make payments totaling $125 million to establish the Book Rights Registry, to resolve existing claims by authors and publishers and to cover legal fees. Holders worldwide of U.S. copyrights can register their works with the Book Rights Registry and receive compensation from institutional subscriptions, book sales, ad revenues and other possible revenue models, as well as a cash payment if their works have already been digitized. Details of the proposed settlement are available at http://books.google.com.

While the universities have not unanimously agreed to all aspects of the proposed settlement, they believe it is favorable overall to the principles and intentions that led them to join the program.

“The settlement promises to change profoundly the level of access that may be afforded to the printed cultural record, so much of which is presently available to those who are able to visit one of the world’s great libraries,” Keller said. “The democratic impulses—the access to knowledge—are simply too compelling to ignore. They at once appeal to and reflect the respective missions of our three institutions.”

Paul N. Courant, the University of Michigan librarian, said, “This is a service that libraries, because of copyright restrictions, could not offer on their own and goes well beyond what would have been possible, even if Google had prevailed in defending the lawsuits.”

Among the important benefits to the public and higher education would be free full text access at public libraries around the country. Consumers would be able to preview and find books either at a local library or by purchasing them.

The project would create a first-ever database of both in-copyright and out-of-copyright (public domain) works on which scholars can conduct advanced research (known as “the research corpus”). For example, a corpus of this sort would allow scholars in the field of comparative linguistics to conduct specialized large-scale analysis of language, looking for trends over time and expanding our understanding of language and culture.

The project also would enable the sharing of public domain works among scholars, students and institutions. Not only would scholars and students at other universities be able to read these online, but this would make it possible to provide large numbers of texts to individuals wishing to perform research.

Institutions would be able to subscribe to get access to in-copyright, out-of-print books. Working copies of partner libraries’ contributed works would be searchable. People with print disabilities would be able to view or have text read with the use of reader technology. And copies of works digitized by Google would be provided to the partner libraries for long-term preservation.

“None of these offerings would be possible without participation of authors and publishers, and we believe that the agreement, while not without flaws, is beneficial overall,” Keller said. “The agreement rewards copyright holders appropriately for their efforts in publishing books, and addresses vexing copyright issues in a constructive way.”

Stanford, as well as the other university libraries, now must negotiate the specific terms and conditions under which they will participate. The proposed settlement is also still subject to review and approval by the U.S. District Court.