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Revised Google Books settlement

November 16th, 2009 by Chris Strauber

Google and publishers submitted a revised settlement agreement to the court on Friday which addresses some of the concerns expressed about the previous agreement. The best coverage, as usual, is on Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Land. The Open Book Alliance, which includes Amazon and Microsoft as well as some library associations, opposed the previous settlement. It also opposes this, referring to it as “sleight of hand“–a quote which has been recopied so many times in news stories this weekend that I almost didn’t include the link here out of sheer disgust. I recommend a look at Google’s summary of new developments.

The major news for scholarly purposes is that this version of the agreement includes only American, British, Canadian, and Australian publishers. This sidesteps problems raised by the EU, Germany, and other countries with different copyright arrangements. It also makes the resulting collection of books less useful for scholarly purposes.

Much of what I want has been published in the English-speaking world, but much of it has not, and the ability to wander across something from (say) the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences is part of what makes a comprehensive digital collection valuable to me. Dan Clancy, engineering director of the project for Google, “estimates”: that at least 50% of any given university library collection would be excluded.

On the other hand, I should arguably be happy that the new deal feels much less like an existential threat to libraries. I’m not, precisely, because I think it would replicate the situation we currently have, where the freely available tools appear to be comprehensive to users but actually aren’t. I frequently talk to students using Google Scholar who are not aware that we subscribe to much of what publishers there offer to let you pay for. Complexity is job security for me, but I’d much rather have services which are self-explanatory.

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