A settlement between Google and the Association of American Publishers reached Thursday will allow U.S. publishers to decide whether or not their books or journals are digitized by the Google Books Library Project—an online repository of nearly 15 million books and journals, nearly one million of which came from Harvard.
Thursday’s decision has been seven years in the making. The Authors Guild and the AAP, which represents more than 300 publishing houses, filed a lawsuit in 2005 claiming that Google had violated copyright laws by scanning copyrighted books without publisher permission. Although Google agreed three years later to pay $125 million to authors and publishers whose work they had already scanned, the settlement was nullified in 2011 by a federal court, which decided that the subscription and purchase costs proposed by Google for copyrighted work presented an unfair advantage to the company. Litigation with the Authors Guild remains ongoing.
Harvard was one of the first academic libraries to participate in the Library Project, joining along with Stanford, Oxford, Michigan, and the New York Public Library in 2004. At that time Google planned to digitize 40,000 books from Harvard’s collection, a project then-director of the Harvard University Library Sidney Verba ’53 welcomed as exciting progress for scholarship.
“[The project] has people go to Google and find references to books,” he told The Crimson in 2005. “That’s the reason I think it’s great.”
The Library Project ultimately scanned nearly 850,000 of Harvard’s out-of-copyright volumes, but as of now will get no closer to the rest of the University’s collection, which numbers almost 17 million. In 2008, following Google’s tenuous settlement with the AAP and the Author’s guild, Harvard expressed concern at the legal implications of scanning copyrighted material and stepped away from the partnership.
Instead, a group of open-access advocates from around the country’s libraries and universities have come together under the leadership of University Librarian Robert C. Darnton ’60 and former law professor John G. Palfrey ’94 to assemble the Digital Public Library of America, an effort much like Google’s to digitize all published books and open up the resources of America’s major research collections to scholars around the world. Unlike the Library Project, DPLA is a non-profit endeavor seen more as an online public library. It is slated to open in April 2013.
Google has long contended that the Library Project is an attempt to increase accessibility and exposure to published material. The project provides both full-text and limited viewing access. The company originally envisioned scanning every book in the world—an ambition that has been hindered by concerns from the publishing industry.
“Our goal is to improve access to books—not to replace them,” it writes in the online description of Google Books and the Library Project. “Copyright law is supposed to ensure that authors and publishers have an incentive to create new work, not stop people from finding out that the work exists. By helping people find books, we believe we can increase the incentive to publish them.”
—Staff writer Radhika Jain can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.