You've probably heard of the Google Library Books Project, a massive project wherein search giant Google teamed up with a number of large research libraries worldwide to scan their holdings in order to make digitized copies of those books available worldwide. Cooperating libraries included Oxford's Bodleian library - the oldest public library in the world - Harvard University Libraries, and the University of Michigan Libraries, giving Google a database which now numbers over 10 million books, many of which are not in the public domain, but still fall under copyright protection. As a result, it wasn't long before a lawsuit was brought against Google by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, concerned that people would access their books via Google without paying the authors or publishers of protected works the royalties they would normally be due.
The result of this lawsuit was a settlement that has become known as the Google Book Settlement, a settlement that many authors, agents, libraries, and lawyers claim gives Google a tremendously unfair advantage over any other digitizing enterprise, gives Google perpetual and exclusive rights to "orphaned works" - books that are still under copyright protection, but for which a copyright claimant has not come forward or been found - if no claim has been filed for them by June 5, 2010. Google maintains that these concerns are overblown. Co-founder Sergey Brin wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times recently essentially calling the Google Books Project the digital equivalent of the Great Library of Alexandria, but UC Berkley law professor Pamela Samuelson responded with a rebuttal, pointing out that:
- Unlike any library, Google is a profit-motivated company, out to sell you a product
- Libraries and library associations are lining up in opposition to the proposed settlement, something they wouldn't do if Google Books operated like a library
- The settlement would put the fair use of copyright materials in jeopardy, and libraries are great believers in fair use
- Rights to reader privacy are also at risk (would you like some Adsense advertisements with your book search?)
Enter the Open Book Alliance (OBA), an organization whose mission recognizes that "the mass digitization of books promises to bring tremendous value to consumers, libraries, scholars, and students. The Open Book Alliance will work to advance and protect this promise. And, by protecting it, ... will assert that any mass book digitization and publishing effort be open and competitive." The OBA was co-founded by Peter Brantley, Director of the Bookserver Project at the Internet Archive and previously Director of the Digital Library Federation, and Gary Reback, an intellectual property and trade regulation lawyer generally credited with spearheading the efforts leading to the U.S. Government’s prosecution of Microsoft.
The last sentence of OBA's Mission Statement makes it very clear: "The Open Book Alliance will counter Google, the Association of American Publishers and the Authors’ Guild’s scheme to monopolize the access, distribution and pricing of the largest digital database of books in the world. To this end, we will promote fair and flexible solutions aimed at achieving a more robust and open system."
One of the ways that OBA is striving to "oppose" the Google Book Settlement is through recruiting organizational members to give weight to their mission. Current members include Microsoft and Amazon.com, groups of authors such as the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Sceince Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, groups of publishers like the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, and Small Press Distribution, library associations like the New York Library Association and the Special Libraries Association, and many others.
Another way OBA hopes to secure opposition to the Google Book Settlement is to educate the public about its dangers. They have published a quick guide to the proposed book settlement, "Fact vs. Fiction" in pdf format. Their web site features a news center with links to all their press releases and any stories from the mainstream media regarding the proposed settlement. And they have a resources page featuring links to video and transcripts of congressional testimony about the settlement.
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