Google opened the door to its online library late Thursday with the launch of a book-specific search page.
Print.Google.Com makes official the search goliath’s project to digitize the world’s books. But the launch drew backlash from the Association of American University Presses, in the form of an open letter focusing on Google Library, a service that went live in December.
In a May 20 letter, the AAUP raised the alarm about Google’s library book-scanning initiative.
While many of the academic presses signed on enthusiastically for Google Print for Publishers, the letter said, no one mentioned Google Library. The subsequent statements by the search goliath have transformed AAUP members’ initial confusion into “mounting alarm and concern at a plan that appears to involve systematic infringement of copyright on a massive scale.”
Google had begun working with University of Michigan, Harvard, Stanford and Oxford Universities, and the New York City Public Library to digitize public-domain books in their collections. However, unlike the negotiations with book publishers for the print search service, which launched in beta in December, dealings with the libraries were kept under wraps.
Internetnews.com has learned that it took two years for Google to come to agreement with these libraries, and the talks were kept secret even from the universities’ publishing units.
According to the AAUP, digitizing library collections and making them searchable has the potential for serious financial damage to publishers.
The AAUP gave Google a list of sixteen questions, from exactly how long is the “snippet” of text the search engine will return in the results to how many digital copies it will make and store.
One urgent question relates to the pay-per-use system for which Google has applied for a patent. “What protection do copyright owners have against Google itself deciding to adopt a new business model that involves the direct exploitation of these copies by, for example, offering Google users access through the pay-per-view system for which Google has a patent application pending?”
As previously reported, one of Google’s many patent applications describes a protocol that would request authorization from a publisher before retrieving a digital version of a book, permitting “subscription-like access.”
AAUP spokeswoman Brenna McLaughlin said her organization had no response yet from the Googleplex. “The point of the letter is there are so many questions out there about what exactly this entails,” she said. “The letter was intended to start a dialog and elicit some answers to those questions.”
Google executives weren’t available for comment.
But Philip Pochoda, director of the University of Minnesota Press, called the letter “singularly ill-advised.” He said the AAUP didn’t contact him or his counterpart at Stanford University Press before publishing the letter.
“By the tone of the letter, and by releasing it to the press prior even to reception by Google had the effect — and possibly even the intention — of cutting off discussion with Google, rather than encouraging it,” Pochoda said.
“The AAUP is not wrong in taking this seriously and examining it closely for intellectual and even economic damage to the press, but I don’t think the letter shows sufficient appreciation for the complexity of the issues. This issue of copyright and fair use is one on which reasonable people can disagree,” Pochoda said. “Some very savvy lawyers both here at Michigan and at the other institutions have concluded that this falls on the appropriate side of copyright case law.”
Copyright and trademark attorney Martin Schwimmer gave the Google Print good marks. “Google puts the onus on the publisher, but the publisher is in a position to know what its rights are. This shows Google has thought through some of these issues and has provided solutions.”
For example, Google allows publisher to suppress photos for which they might have only one-time printing rights, so that they don’t appear in search results.
“Google Print not only helps you find books, it helps you buy books,” the company tells publishers in its FAQ. Searchers can click on links to “Buy this Book” at online bookstores. If the book was scanned from a library, they can click the library link to find it at a local library.
While Pochoda was kept in the dark by the University of Michigan Library, he praised the project as one of historic importance. “Google has been very conscientious about protecting intellectual property rights and improving revenue opportunities for publishers,” he added.