Thursday, 21 May 2009

Google proposes giving librarians a say in fees for accessing orphan works

From today's NYTimes.

SAN FRANCISCO — In a move that could blunt some of the criticism of Google for its settlement of a lawsuit over its book-scanning project, the company signed an agreement with the University of Michigan that would give some libraries a degree of oversight over the prices Google could charge for its vast digital library.

Google has faced an onslaught of opposition over the far-reaching settlement with authors and publishers. Complaints include the exclusive rights the agreement gives Google to publish online and to profit from millions of so-called orphan books, out-of-print books that are protected by copyright but whose rights holders cannot be found.

The Justice Department has also begun an inquiry into whether the settlement, which is subject to approval by a court, would violate antitrust laws.

Google used the opportunity of the University of Michigan agreement to rebut some criticism.

“I think that it’s pretty short- sighted and contradictory,” said Sergey Brin, a Google co-founder and its president of technology. Mr. Brin said the settlement would allow Google to offer widespread access to millions of books that are largely hidden in the stacks of university libraries.

“We are increasing choices,” Mr. Brin said. “There was no option prior to this to get these sorts of books online.”

Under Google’s plan for the collection, public libraries will get free access to the full texts for their patrons at one computer, and universities will be able to buy subscriptions to make the service generally available, with rates based on their student enrollment.

The new agreement, which Google hopes other libraries will endorse, lets the University of Michigan object if it thinks the prices Google charges libraries for access to its digital collection are too high, a major concern of some librarians. Any pricing dispute would be resolved through arbitration.

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