Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Urban Libraries Council Weighs in on Google Book Settlement

/PRNewswire/ -- The Urban Libraries Council (ULC), the membership organization representing 140 major North American public library systems, is calling for revisions to the Google Book Search settlement that is now before the United States District Court in the Southern District of New York. In a statement submitted to the court this week, ULC says that it applauds the intent of the settlement, making millions of books available to the users of public libraries. The statement raises concerns, however, about the inadequacy of the proposed free public access service, the lack of protection for reader privacy, the failure to provide for no-fee fair use of copyright-protected material and the unrestrained possibility of monopolistic pricing.

"The Google Book Search database is a major undertaking that will shape the future of books, libraries, research, publishing and learning. It is essential that the interests of the public be represented as this new model for the organization and distribution of intellectual content comes into use," said Susan Benton, ULC President and CEO. "As it stands, the proposed settlement's provisions for general public access and use fall far short. Public libraries have long pursued a major goal: the broadest possible access, at the lowest possible cost, to opportunities for learning and growth for all Americans. By storing and disseminating seven million books from the collections of our great research libraries, Google Book Search can help democratize our intellectual and cultural heritage. But without attending to these serious public needs, the settlement will only widen the gap between haves and have-nots."

The proposed settlement is the result of a class action lawsuit brought by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers against Google in 2005, claiming that the Google Book Scan project is a massive violation of the plaintiffs' copyrights. The settlement builds a comprehensive licensing agreement between Google and the plaintiffs, establishing new practices and standards that would be controlled by Google and a new private entity, the Book Rights Registry.

ULC's statement to the court addresses four public issues: public access, reader privacy, fair use and monopoly.

The settlement provides for free public access to the database through one designated computer terminal in each public library building in the United States. ULC believes that this provision is inadequate and unworkable, and that a system that allows free public access throughout library computer networks is needed.

Reader privacy and confidentiality, a strong legal requirement in most states and a cherished public library value, have not been addressed by the settlement, according to ULC. A system that allows anonymous access to the database through library computers should be developed.

Fair use of copyright-protected material, for non-commercial research and educational purposes, is a well-established feature of the American intellectual property system that ULC supports. The proposed settlement allows Google to impose per-page licensing charges for all printing from the database. ULC believes that limited free printing should be built into the settlement.

Unregulated monopolistic pricing practices are a distinct possibility under the system created by the settlement, with Google and a new, privately controlled Book Rights Registry in charge. The public interest should be protected, ULC's statement maintains, by a public library presence in the membership of the Book Rights Registry.

"This is a pivotal moment in the history of access to recorded information, not unlike the introduction of moveable type or the birth of the Internet," said Ms. Benton. "It's essential that we get it right by making the needed changes before the settlement is approved. The principles of the broadest possible access to knowledge must guide the next era in the information age."

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