March 12 – March 19, 2009 Edition

University Lawyers
Express Concerns
Over Google Settlement

WASHINGTON, DC/AUTHORLINK NEWS/03/12/09–Several universities have begun raising significant concerns over the Google’s $125 million class-action settlement with the Association of American Publishers and the Author’s Guild. The settlement, which broadens Google’s ability to scan and sell copyrighted books, is pending before the courts, and writers and publishers have only until May 5 to protest.

Harvard University and now the University of Georgetown have voiced strong reservations about the settlement, among others, pointing out that while Google’s Book Search program provides convenience for users, the company could monopolize warehousing of published works very soon. Today, 7 million scans of published works are available online through the Google Book Search beta program.

Harvard University last October examined Google’s recent legal settlement with publishers and authors, and found it wanting. The Harvard Crimson

reported that the university would not allow its in-copyright holdings to be scanned by Google Book Search because of concerns over the terms of the $125-million settlement. Harvard said it is concerned over the fact that “the settlement provides no assurance that the prices charged for access will be reasonable, 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.”

Last week, two Georgetown University scholars warned against putting “so many goals, hopes and dreams in one company’s hands,” and voiced their

concerns about Google’s massive digitization process that will make entire books available online. (See Georgetown University News )

New York Law School associate professor James Grimmelmann spoke February 27 alongside Siva Vaidhyanathan, associate professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, in a campus panel discussion titled, “Google and the Future of Higher Education.”

Grimmelmann criticized the class-action lawsuit in general, saying its settlement allows Google to “restructure the book industry” without legislative or agency oversight.

“The courtroom is not supposed to be the place where we resolve the entire interests of huge, gigantic, million-member classes,” Grimmelmann said. “The settlement is still a net-positive for society. Good things can come of corrupt practices. But we should be concerned that this is not how it should be done and the result is not what society has a right to expect.”

“With the extent of its scanning, Google Books could become “the only game in town,” Grimmelmann said.

“The implication of Google’s digitization efforts are potentially staggering,” said Richard Brown, director of the Georgetown University Press and the panel’s moderator. “Librarians, publishers, scholars,

administrators, students — anyone who reads has a significant stake in this .. There are many things to celebrate about Google and its effort to digitize books; and many things to ponder.”

Critics also point out that under the settlement terms, owners of “orphaned” works or works without an obvious copyright holder will not be compensated.

Georgetown invited Google officials to take part in the panel discussion, but they declined, Brown noted.