Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
I hope you don't mind me hijacking your diary, but I wrote a diary on the Google Books issue on DailyKos a while back. I'll paste it below:

The New York Review of Books has a fascinating article on the future of libraries and Google's electronic library project.


The basic argument goes that Google has stepped in where gov't and American public institutions have not to digitize copyrighted information without authorization, and by doing so, Google has consolidated so much control over copyrighted resources (Microsoft has recently bowed out of an attempt to battle Google on this front) that no copyright holders can dare challenge them anymore, given the recent class-action lawsuit which allows Google to copy texts willy-nilly without regard for purchasing rights to a text directly from the copyright holder. If you, the copyright holder, do not like it, then you can opt out. But remember, no one else is stepping up to the plate to digitize entire libraries.

The upshot of all this is that Google has sidestepped copyright law by force of its sheer size. It's an information behemoth. It cannot be resisted. Here's why:

Google's record suggests that it will not abuse its double-barreled fiscal-legal power. But what will happen if its current leaders sell the company or retire? The public will discover the answer from the prices that the future Google charges, especially the price of the institutional subscription licenses. The settlement leaves Google free to negotiate deals with each of its clients, although it announces two guiding principles: "(1) the realization of revenue at market rates for each Book and license on behalf of the Rightsholders and (2) the realization of broad access to the Books by the public, including institutions of higher education."

What will happen if Google favors profitability over access? Nothing, if I read the terms of the settlement correctly. Only the registry, acting for the copyright holders, has the power to force a change in the subscription prices charged by Google, and there is no reason to expect the registry to object if the prices are too high. Google may choose to be generous in its pricing, and I have reason to hope it may do so; but it could also employ a strategy comparable to the one that proved to be so effective in pushing up the price of scholarly journals: first, entice subscribers with low initial rates, and then, once they are hooked, ratchet up the rates as high as the traffic will bear. There will be no competitor to keep you honest.

Free-market advocates may argue that the market will correct itself. If Google charges too much, customers will cancel their subscriptions, and the price will drop. But there is no direct connection between supply and demand in the mechanism for the institutional licenses envisioned by the settlement. Students, faculty, and patrons of public libraries will not pay for the subscriptions. The payment will come from the libraries; and if the libraries fail to find enough money for the subscription renewals, they may arouse ferocious protests from readers who have become accustomed to Google's service. In the face of the protests, the libraries probably will cut back on other services, including the acquisition of books, just as they did when publishers ratcheted up the price of periodicals.

No one can predict what will happen. We can only read the terms of the settlement and guess about the future. If Google makes available, at a reasonable price, the combined holdings of all the major US libraries, who would not applaud? Would we not prefer a world in which this immense corpus of digitized books is accessible, even at a high price, to one in which it did not exist?

If you're a much smaller entity than Google, you would not dare digitize this much information on your own without getting the copyright. Ask any professor who has had to go through the copyright clearinghouse to have a text digitized for course reserve, there are high costs associated with digitizing. But Google gets away with it for one reason and one reason only: it has the largest database. The threat here is that, if you preclude Google from carrying your text, then in the future your text will not be carried in any digitized database at all, since none other than Google's will exist. Certainly, you'll be able to reproduce your text for the World-Wide-Web and publish it online, but it won't be searchable for research within the circumscribed limits of the world's greatest archive for research. Libraries and professional subscription databases are a great guardrail for keeping out, say, anything published by someone over at a questionable site. To opt out of Google's service, if you want to maintain copyright control, is essentially to relinquish your text to obscurity. Many of us are fine with that, obviously (i.e. publishing something on the web and not making money off it), but not everyone is.

By force of its size and monopoly, Google can charge any amount for its subscription service, and if we're hooked on this huge database, then a library will start to devote more and more money to this subscription as it possibly can, at the expense of purchasing hard cover books, at the expense of purchasing subscriptions to journals, at the expense of purchasing rare books and archives for study, etc. Once that happens, libraries will be obsolete.  If the sole reason for their existence becomes providing terminal windows from which to view Google books, then why have libraries at all? And then what will be the upshot on the bottom line for publishers?

I honestly can't see how the legal case passed muster at all, but apparently, it has. It just seems wrong to me.

by Upstate NY on Sat Jun 13th, 2009 at 11:55:32 PM EST

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