Last week’s expected decision on the controversial Google Books Library Project by a US federal judge has been postponed. The judge told a crowded courtroom last week that he will listen with an “open mind” to the arguments for and again Google’s settlement with authors and publishers about the right to scan and publish book titles. U. S. District Court Judge Denny Chin walked into the courtroom at the U. S. Court of the Southern District New York with a tall stack of comments from each of the parties, and stated: “To end the suspense, I’m not going to rule today. There’s too much to digest”.
The Google Books Library Project aims to make it easy for people to find relevant books online. Google’s objective with this project was to enable people to find books that they couldn’t normally find as might be the case with out of print books. The homepage for the project states that the ultimate goal is to “work with publishers and libraries to create a comprehensive, searchable, virtual card catalogue of all books in all languages that helps users discover new books and publishers discover new readers”. Google, which has yet to present their case to the judge, have emphasised that the number of books included in the settlement is a small portion (3%) of all the titles in the world. They plan to make 20% of the catalogue free and if they choose, users can purchase the rest from Google.
The project has been under much criticism since its inception from competitors such as Microsoft and Amazon who argue that allowing the project go ahead will basically mean giving Google a license to profit from orphan works and get an unfair advantage. Other critics include some library groups, authors and other competitors. Another concern is that nothing in the settlement would protect users’ personal habits and information from being tracked for behavioural advertising. “The proposed Google book settlement is not a philanthropic effort to bring literature into the 21st century and bridge a literary divide,” opponents Microsoft, Amazon and library groups wrote in a recent filing through the Open Book Alliance. “This de facto exclusive license will provide Google with an enormous advantage over its search competitors.”
There are advocates for this plan such as the University of Michigan who praised the deal because they believe that most of the books in the settlement are scholarly works that are collecting dust on university bookshelves and wouldn’t otherwise be read. Other advocates include blind support groups who say that making publications available online means that people will have easier and cheaper access to works that are hard to come by today.
The settlement is part of Google’s ambitious effort to put the entire world’s books online, aiming to eventually be the main source for searching and buying titles.