Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Google Settlements Vast Supply of Content

For most public and academic institutions, amassing a collection of seven million volumes would be a pipe dream of extraordinary proportion and, while there are many legitimate concerns and arguments regarding the imminent resolution of the case between Google, The Authors Guild and the AAP, the benefit to the public (via libraries) is hard to ignore. Take an average cost of $10 per book purchased and add to that cost the costs of making it shelf ready, of checking it in and out and the capital expense of storing it, and there is simply no way libraries could afford to acquire a collection as comprehensive.

We don't know what the pricing will be to libraries (and Mike Shatzkin and I are attempting to make some estimates) but the methodology for pricing is unlikely to differ substantially from the way existing databases are offered to public and academic libraries. Allowance will be made for institution budgets, school enrollment, population served, etc. and both Google and the Book Rights Registry (AG & AAP) will be interested in maximizing penetration so that their revenues are optimized. There may be built in protection against extortionate pricing since both Google and the BBR want to maximize views which argues for pricing that achieves the widest potential audience for the database. Library penetration will not be 100% but it will be high since libraries - particularly academics and large publics - will feel compelled to purchase access to this content to support their patrons. In fact, not having it will cause more consternation and deliberation.

Many libraries will see licensing this content as an opportunity to put their research capabilities on par with the top order of academic libraries. After all, this content comes from a who's who of top flight public and academic institutions. A small agricultural college in west Texas may never have had the resources to purchase a deep repository of content supporting their core curriculum but here they have the opportunity to do just that.

Opposition to this agreement is building in advance of the early May decision and, while I personally support adoption of this agreement, I am troubled that the fact of the scanning of this material is now treated as a fait accompli and has thus become a starting point for establishing agreement. Resolution should have addressed the core issue of fair use and copyright but that has not been the case and, because those issues have not been addressed, it leaves Google with a certain (some may say excessive) market power and leaves non-participants to this agreement/resolution open to possible future copyright violation.

As has been pointed out (and openly supported by Google), Orphan works legislation is not precluded or superseded by the agreement between AG, AAP and Google. What strikes me as odd however is the lack of attention any member of Congress has paid to this particular issue. To my knowledge no Congressional representative has come out either in support of the Google settlement or become newly interested in Orphan works legislation. Given the intensity of the attention paid to this issue in the publishing and library community it would seem that if Congress is still not interested in addressing Orphan works legislation then they never will. That's the situation we effectively had before the parties agreed to the settlement (and for many years past). I hope Congress does take up Orphan works legislation but in the meantime I also hope a lot of students and researchers make extensive use of this vast supply of content.
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1 comment:

Pyegar said...

The Senate passed OW legislation last session. Leahy & Hatch seem to favor sort form of legislative approach to the issue.