Recently, Google representatives have initiated contact with members of the library community to explain, from their perspective, the proposed Google Book Search settlement agreement that was recently reached among Google, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the Authors Guild. Specifically, Google is reaching out to library leaders, likely in response to an increase in interest in the community and the press about the concerns libraries have raised in response to the proposed private settlement agreement.
You will recall that the American Library Association (ALA), the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) filed comments on May 4, 2009, with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for the judge to consider in his ruling on the proposed settlement. In that filing, the library associations asked the judge to exercise vigorous oversight of the interpretation and implementation of the settlement to ensure the broadest possible benefits from the services the settlement enables. The associations also asserted that although the proposed settlement has the potential to provide public access to millions of books, many of the features of the settlement, including the absence of competition for the new services, could compromise fundamental library values including equity of access to information, patron privacy and intellectual freedom.
In response to questions we are receiving from our members about these potential “one-on-one” meetings with Google engineers and analysts who are developing Google Book Search and who will implement the agreement (if approved by the court), we are sharing some suggested questions to ask, should you decide to meet.
On the topic of equitable access to information, and more specifically pricing, the proposed settlement allows for differential pricing for different categories of institutions for subscriptions, why? The settlement states institutional subscription pricing will be “based on comparable products and services.” Since no other comparable product or service currently exists, how will Google keep from disparities in access to its product if subscription prices are, or become, too expensive? Finally, the Book Rights Registry established by the proposed settlement (and comprised of equal numbers of representatives for the authors and publishers), has been granted the oversight to settle disputes over pricing. What, if any, mechanism would be available to libraries (as primary customers of the product), and individual consumers to dispute pricing?
Finally, with regard to intellectual freedom, the proposed settlement allows Google to omit up to 15% of in-copyright, not commercially available books it has scanned from libraries. What criteria will Google use to determine which books are omitted from the product? Will Google identify the books omitted and provide any explanation as to why? How will Google keep from engaging in censorship as it is conceivable and even likely that both domestic and international pressure will be exerted upon them to censor books?
Of course, there are many other questions about the proposed settlement that we encourage you to discuss with your colleagues not only as you consider meeting with the Google representatives, but also decide whether you purchase a subscription to the product, should it become available in the future. Over the past several months, since the proposed settlement agreement was announced, the library community has engaged in a number of activities to foster awareness and understanding of the settlement and its potential implications, and provide venues for discussion and questions from the community. In addition, the ALA Washington Office has created an informational website for the library community on the proposed Google Book Search settlement.
Moving forward, it is important to remember that this proposed settlement that broadly outlines the terms and conditions Google, the AAP and the Authors Guild reached during private negotiations is not yet final. Recently, the judge presiding over the case extended the deadline for filing comments to the court by four months to September 4, 2009, and scheduled a final fairness hearing for October 7, 2009. Although the filing deadline was extended, the library associations moved forward with filing on May 4 (within the original deadline of May 7) to help inform the library community and the public as they consider this important and complex matter.
Contact: Corey Williams
ALA Washington Office