Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Library Associations Address Issues in Google Settlement

Fellow traveler Peter Brantley has posted on Scribd the submission by ALA, ARL and ACRL addressing their concerns about the Google Settlement agreement. This document was submitted to the court last week. Here are some of the notable passages but the document is only 22 pages long for those looking for a quick read.

On how important the database may become:
Notwithstanding these deficiencies in the ISD, an institutional subscription will provide an authorized user with online access to the full text of as many as 20 million books. Students and faculty members at higher education institutions with institutional subscriptions will be able to access the ISD from any computer -- from home, a dorm room, or an office. Accordingly, it is possible that faculty and students at institutions of higher education will come to view the institutional subscription as an indispensable research tool. They might insist that their institution’s library purchase such a subscription. The institution’s administration might also insist that the library purchase an institutional subscription so that the institution can remain competitive with other institutions of higher education in terms of the recruitment and retention of faculty and students.
And this in regard to market power:
However, as likely consumers of this essential research facility, the Library Associations cannot overlook the possibility that the Registry or Google might abuse the control the Settlement confers upon them. Abuse of this control would threaten fundamental library values of access, equity, privacy, and intellectual freedom.
This with respect to pricing:
Google will have the incentive to negotiate vigorously with the Registry to set the price of the institutional subscription as low as possible to maximize the number of authorized users with access to the ISD. Nonetheless, Google’s business model, at least with respect to the institutional subscription, may change, and at some point in the future it may seek a profit maximizing price structure that has the effect of reducing access.

Significantly, the predominant model for pricing of scientific, technical, and medical journals in the online environment has been based on low volume and high prices. Major commercial publishers have been content with strategies that maximize profits by selling subscriptions to few customers at high cost. Typically these customers are academic and research libraries. Therefore, the Registry and Google may seek to emulate this strategy in the market for institutional subscriptions.
On privacy:
Evidently, in the Settlement negotiations the class representatives insisted on these measures to protect the security of digital copies of their books; but no one demanded protection of user privacy. Users of the services enabled by the Settlement also cannot rely on competitive forces to preserve their privacy. In the online environment, competition is perhaps the most powerful force that can help to insure user privacy. If a user does not like one search engine firm’s privacy policy, he can switch to another search engine. Similarly, a user has many choices among online retailers, email providers, social networks, and Internet access providers. The competitive pressure often forces at least a minimal level of privacy protection. However, with the services enabled by the Settlement, there will be no competitive pressure protecting user privacy.
They worry about intellectual freedom and censorship:
While Google on its own might not choose to exclude books, it probably will find itself under pressure from state and local governments or interest groups to censor books that discuss topics such as alternative lifestyles or evolution. After all, the Library Project will allow minors to access up to 20% of the text of millions of books from the computers in their bedrooms and to read the full text of these books from the public access terminals in their libraries.
Addresses issues with new affiliated services:
Although the Settlement permits the Registry to license the rights it possesses to third parties such as Amazon, the Settlement does not require it to do so. Nor does it provide standards to govern the terms by which the Registry would license these rights. This means that the Registry could refuse to license the rights to Google competitors on terms comparable to those provided to Google under the Settlement.43 The Registry, therefore, could prevent the development of competitive services.


Eugene G. Schwartz said...

Very useful overview.

Certainly important that these issues are being raised.

If the issue is pricing -- I think the low volume high price of monograph access is ready to fall of its own weight anyway and open access has been eating away at it -and if this helps I think the market will keep it that way - trying to resesarch from published journal papers can cost a small fortune in access fees.

If the issue is fairness - I think we are much less likely to get a satisfactory outcome out of a federally supervised process than one governed by contract and the rights agency.

If the issue is no deal in response to these concerns, we go back to the void that is the present--

Gene Schwartz

Michael W. said...

Those who would like to look at other documents filed with the court in the settlement dispute can find several of them ready for download at:


For those associated with universities, the six-month extension request file signed by 16 academic authors is especially useful.

I am one of the eight authors (or their representatives) who filed the request for a four-month extension in the automatic opt-in date which the court granted on April 27.

Our purpose was to give writers and publishers more time to study the agreement and to allow more time for debate. The latter is particularly important as more European writers discover how the settlement will affect them. I include links on that webpage to recent articles in the European press and the Heidelberg Appeal.

--Michael W. Perry, Seattle