Harvard Discusses Google Book Project Lawsuit

Harvard faculty recently discussed its current stance against allowing Google Books to scan the University’s vast collection of copyrighted material.

Over 30 professors and administrators from across the University gathered at the Charles Hotel on Wednesday in a closed meeting to discuss whether Harvard should sign a deal with Google Books, which would grant the web giant permission to scan and digitize the University’s materials and make them publicly accessible.

In October 2008, the University decided not to partner with Google, objecting to the terms of a $125 million settlement that Google reached with several publishing houses and the Authors Guild, which had sued for “massive” copyright infringement.

At the time of the 2008 settlement, University Spokesman John D. Longbrake said that Harvard might partner with Google Books if the terms of the settlement were revised to be more “reasonable.”

In 2009, the Department of Justice objected to Google’s settlement, expressing concerns that Google Books’ digitization project violated antitrust laws.


The case is currently being heard in New York City by Judge Denny Chin, but the process of reaching a settlement has been delayed.

But University Attorney Jonathan H. Hulbert said that Harvard’s decision need not hinge on the terms of the settlement, a position echoed by several others in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting.

“We may not want our thinking to be colored by the prospect of a settlement,” East Asian Languages and Civilizations Professor Peter K. Bol said.

At the meeting, University officials involved with the Google settlement reviewed Harvard’s history with Google Books and looked toward the future of a potential partnership.

In 2005, Harvard had agreed to scan 40,000 of its public domain holdings in a pilot program, contributing to the 12 million works Google Books has already digitized.

“How do we make information and knowledge most accessible with the least cost?”  Bol asked, identifying the overarching question of the meeting.

“We are trying to get an understanding of the state of play of the Google Books settlement,” said Bol, whose questions at the February Faculty Meeting instigated Wednesday’s gathering.

In February, Bol had asked, “What is Harvard’s rationale for not joining the settlement to date?”

University President Drew G. Faust, who said she did not receive prior notice of the question posed at February’s Faculty Meeting, still reaffirmed that the University is committed to open access, within the bounds of legality.

This discussion, Hulbert said, could “go on for a long time.”


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