Monday, December 08, 2008

Seven Questions About the GBS Deal

GBS Questions for Librarians

By Adam Corson-Finnerty
December 8, 2008

I believe that, broadly speaking, the Google Book Settlement is a good thing.
However, I have some very specific questions that I have not seen addressed by the Library community.

1. The Book Rights Registry is a non-profit entity that plays a critical role in administering the agreement. The BRR is controlled by four author representatives and four publisher representatives, with five votes needed for decisions. Why aren’t there any library representatives on this board? Or “public” representatives.

2. This question is made more important by my reading of what happens if Google decides that the book-scanning business is a money sinkhole. We saw Microsoft bail out of the LiveSearch business, so this is not moot. If Google bails, then the BRR takes over the whole operation. All the more reason to have some “public” directors.

3. Here is something cool to think about. In-print books and public domain books appear to be the tip of the iceberg. The greatest number of titles are out-of-print but still in copyright. I have seen estimates of 20-30 million titles. In most cases, the rights to such works will have reverted to the author. Google is going to have a green light to scan these titles for inclusion in its database, and for selective display, and commercial use, unless the author formally objects. The author will get a cut of any revenue, through the distributive mechanism of the BRR. All well and good. But this also opens an interesting opportunity. Allowing your book to be in the GBS is non-exclusive. Therefore, authors could also give publication rights to a non-profit entity, perhaps their university library, perhaps to a coalition of libraries. Authors could sign a “creative commons” license for their out-of-print titles, thus adding immeasurably to the Open Access corpus. Shouldn’t we get organized and go after this opportunity?

4. I am really freaked by what is said about “mining” the GBS database. Only “non-consumptive” research will be permitted. That appears to mean that you can count words and analyze patterns, but you cannot see the words or phrases in context. This seems so outrageous that I hope that I am mis-interpreting. A simple example will suffice: Suppose you wanted to study how widely the term “fulsome praise” has transmuted from having a negative connotation to having a positive one. You would have to see the phrase in context. Google will allow the establishment of three research bases, all of which are restricted to “non-consumptive” research. OK, but will the “institutional subscription” then allow datamining *with* context? If not, this is a scandal and academic librarians should be shouting from the rooftops.

5. A different sort of question is this: If Google is successful, then virtually every book ever printed in English, and millions of titles in other languages, will be available to read, print out, and purchase through print-on-demand. So can most academic research libraries get out of the book storage business? You can see what I mean: save a few preservation master copies, and a dozen circulating copies for those who want to study the book as artifact, and dump the rest. For most of our patrons, if they want to read the book on paper, a printed facsimile should do just fine.

6. And yet, I have heard that Google’s scans are certainly not preservation quality, and perhaps not even print-on-demand quality. Does anyone know?

7. Finally, the Google Agreement is between the company and authors and publishers. Artists, photographers, and illustrators are not included. I have heard that this will mean the images in an in-copyright book will be blanked out. Is this true? Has anyone heard of Google pursuing a “deal” will these groups?

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