Harvard-Google Online Book Deal at Risk

Harvard University Library will not take part in Google’s book scanning project for in-copyright works after finding the terms of its landmark $125 million settlement regarding copyrighted materials unsatisfactory, University officials said yesterday.

Harvard had been one of five academic libraries—along with Stanford, Oxford, Michigan, and the New York Public Library—to partner with Google when the book scanning initiative was announced in October 2004. University officials said that Harvard would continue its policy of only allowing Google to scan books whose copyrights have expired.

Google’s initiative has drawn fire because the Internet search company plans to digitize books that are still in copyright. The Association of American Publishers, the trade group that brought the lawsuit and that represents more than 300 publishing houses, has alleged that Google’s initiative amounted to copyright infringement on a massive scale.

In the settlement announced on Tuesday, which must still be approved by a New York district court, Google agreed to pay $125 million to authors and publishers, paving the way for a massive expansion of books available for purchase online. Universities and libraries will also be able to buy subscriptions to gain access to the scanned books.

University spokesman John D. Longbrake said that HUL’s participation in the scanning of copyright materials was contingent on the outcome of the settlement between Google and the publishers.

Harvard might still take part in the project, Longbrake said, if the settlement between Google and publishers contains more “reasonable terms” for the University.

In a letter released to library staff, University Library Director Robert C. Darnton ’60 said that uncertainties in the settlement made it impossible for HUL to participate.

“As we understand it, the settlement contains too many potential limitations on access to and use of the books by members of the higher education community and by patrons of public libraries,” Darnton wrote.

“The settlement provides no assurance that the prices charged for access will be reasonable,” Darnton added, “especially since the subscription services will have no real competitors [and] the scope of access to the digitized books is in various ways both limited and uncertain.”

He also said that the quality of the books may be a cause for concern, as “in many cases will be missing photographs, illustrations and other pictorial works, which will reduce their utility for research and education.”

Harvard was not named in the lawsuit by the publishers because it has only allowed Google to digitize its uncopyrighted works. Among the works that Google scanned from Harvard’s collections are volumes by Henry James, Edith Wharton, Booker T. Washington, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Margaret Fuller.

Though Harvard has only been a limited partner in the project, University officials have said in the past that they believed Google’s project to be legal in its entirety.

“We have said that we believe that Google’s treatment of in-copyright works is consistent with copyright law,” Longbrake said in 2005 after the lawsuit against Google was filed.