Google’s contract with the University of California to digitize library holdings was made public today after pressure from The Chronicle of Higher Education and others. The Chronicle discusses some of the key points in the agreement, including the astonishing fact that Google plans to scan as many as 3,000 titles per day, and its commitment, at UC’s insistence, to always make public domain texts freely and wholly available through its web services.
But there are darker revelations as well, and Jeff Ubois, a TV-film archivist and research associate at Berkeley’s School of Information Management and Systems, hones in on some of these on his blog. Around the time that the Google-UC deal was first announced, Ubois compared it to Showtime’s now-infamous compact with the Smithsonian, which caused a ripple of outrage this past April. That deal, the details of which are secret, basically gives Showtime exclusive access to the Smithsonian’s film and video archive for the next 30 years.
The parallels to the Google library project are many. Four of the six partner libraries, like the Smithsonian, are publicly funded institutions. And all the agreements, with the exception of U. Michigan, and now UC, are non-disclosure. Brewster Kahle, leader of the rival Open Content Alliance, put the problem clearly and succinctly in a quote in today’s Chronicle piece:
We want a public library system in the digital age, but what we are getting is a private library system controlled by a single corporation.
He was referring specifically to sections of this latest contract that greatly limit UC’s use of Google copies and would bar them from pooling them in cooperative library systems. I vocalized these concerns rather forcefully in my post yesterday, and may have gotten a couple of details wrong, or slightly overstated the point about librarians ceding their authority to Google’s algorithms (some of the pushback in comments and on other blogs has been very helpful). But the basic points still stand, and the revelations today from the UC contract serve to underscore that. This ought to galvanize librarians, educators and the general public to ask tougher questions about what Google and its partners are doing. Of course, all these points could be rendered moot by one or two bad decisions from the courts.
The APT BookScan 1200. Not what Google and OCA are using (their scanners are human-assisted), just a cool photo.
Less than two months after reaching a deal with Microsoft, the University of California has agreed to let Google scan its vast holdings (over 34 million volumes) into the Book Search database. Google will undoubtedly dig deeper into the holdings of the ten-campus system’s 100-plus libraries than Microsoft, which is a member of the more copyright-cautious Open Content Alliance, and will focus primarily on books unambiguously in the public domain. The Google-UC alliance comes as major lawsuits against Google from the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers are still in the evidence-gathering phase.
Meanwhile, across the drink, French publishing group La Martiniè re in June brought suit against Google for “counterfeiting and breach of intellectual property rights.” Pretty much the same claim as the American industry plaintiffs. Later that month, however, German publishing conglomerate WBG dropped a petition for a preliminary injunction against Google after a Hamburg court told them that they probably wouldn’t win. So what might the future hold? The European crystal ball is murky at best.
During this period of uncertainty, the OCA seems content to let Google be the legal lightning rod. If Google prevails, however, Microsoft and Yahoo will have a lot of catching up to do in stocking their book databases. But the two efforts may not be in such close competition as it would initially seem.
Google’s library initiative is an extremely bold commercial gambit. If it wins its cases, it stands to make a great deal of money, even after the tens of millions it is spending on the scanning and indexing the billions of pages, off a tiny commodity: the text snippet. But far from being the seed of a new literary remix culture, as Kevin Kelly would have us believe (and John Updike would have us lament), the snippet is simply an advertising hook for a vast ad network. Google’s not the Library of Babel, it’s the most sublimely sophisticated advertising company the world has ever seen (see this funny reflection on “snippet-dangling”). The OCA, on the other hand, is aimed at creating a legitimate online library, where books are not a means for profit, but an end in themselves. Brewster Kahle, the founder and leader of the OCA, has a rather immodest aim: “to build the great library.” “That was the goal I set for myself 25 years ago,” he told The San Francisco Chronicle in a profile last year. “It is now technically possible to live up to the dream of the Library of Alexandria.”
So while Google’s venture may be more daring, more outrageous, more exhaustive, more — you name it –, the OCA may, in its slow, cautious, more idealistic way, be building the foundations of something far more important and useful. Plus, Kahle’s got the Bookmobile. How can you not love the Bookmobile?
Microsoft’s forthcoming “MSN Book Search” is the latest entity to join the Open Content Alliance, the non-controversial rival to Google Print. ZDNet says: “Microsoft has committed to paying for the digitization of 150,000 books in the first year, which will be about $5 million, assuming costs of about 10 cents a page and 300 pages, on average, per book…”
Apparently having learned from Google’s mistakes, OCA operates under a strict “opt-in” policy for publishers vis-a-vis copyrighted works (whereas with Google, publishers have until November 1 to opt out). Judging by the growing roster of participants, including Yahoo, the National Archives of Britain, the University of California, Columbia University, and Rice University, not to mention the Internet Archive, it would seem that less hubris equals more results, or at least lower legal fees. Supposedly there is some communication between Google and OCA about potential cooperation.
Also story in NY Times.