September 11, 2009
Google Offers To License the Book Database at Congressional Hearing
The most recent statement from Google about their exclusive control of the content that is subject to the Book Settlement is that they are willing to license it to other resellers. This came at a House hearing yesterday. The offered Amazon the option of licensing their scans at a modest price. Amazon spurned the offer. Paul Meisner, Amazon's vice president of global policy was quotedas saying “The internet has never been about intermediation. We are happy to work with rights holders without anyone else’s help.” Amazon has scanned about 3 million books compared to the 10 million that are subject to the Settlement. I wonder how Meisner feels about the Yahoo-Microsoft Bing deal?
Peter Brantley, a director of the Internet Archive expressed skepticism about Google's offer of license in a report from the Los Angeles Times. "I fail to see what's really new here," he said. "It's like Macy's telling Sears, 'You can sell Macy's clothing.' There's no fundamental change of the conditions under which Macy's acquires those clothes. Google remains in control." Well yes, it's true. Google remains in control, just as Random House remains in control of their library of publications no matter to whom they electronically license them. The major publisher groups and authors who sued Google seem not to be bothered too much with ceding that control to Google in return for cash. Yes, the product has come from library shelves. That does not transform the basic character of how this material comes to the public in a commercial endeavor as far as the rights holders are concerned.
Let's assume the publishers and authors decided to scan their out of print works through agreement with various libraries and selected Google to be the vehicle for scanning and distribution via their search engine. Would a court or Congress question that? What to do with orphan works would remain. Google could probably choose to scan and wait for the inevitable lawsuit and deal with the problem then. In the current suit, it was the publishers and authors who turned this into a class action that ultimately reached a settlement. No one is obligated to see a civil suit to the very end.
Marybeth Peters, Registrar of Copyrights, came out against the deal in spite of generally positive statements earlier. She based her objections on the fact that the settlement allows Google prospectively scan books published before January 5, 2009. She says most settlements concern past conduct. She also objects that the license to scan and sell books is overly broad and should come from Congress rather than the courts. Representative Zoe Lofgren noted that anyone who didn't want Google to sell their books could tell Google to remove the content from database. From Lofgren's perspective, the right of control was with the copyright holder. The Justice Department has yet to file with the District Court. It has about one more week to have its views before the Court.
The Cornell University Library has offered comments via a letter to the District Court in support of the deal. The opportunity to have this mass of information liberated from library shelves and made generally available is too irresistible. Details are here in a press release available through PRWeb. [MG]