Publishers Fear Google’s Monopoly with Plan for Out-of-Print Books
The dusty stacks of the nation’s great university and research libraries are full of orphans — books that the author and publisher have essentially abandoned. They are out of print, and while they remain under copyright, the rights holders are unknown or cannot be found.
Now millions of orphan books may get a new legal guardian. Google has been scanning the pages of those books and others as part of its plan to bring a digital library and bookstore, unprecedented in scope, to computer screens across the United States.
But a growing chorus is complaining that a far-reaching settlement of a suit brought against Google by publishers and authors is about to grant the company too much power over orphan works.Determining which books are orphans is difficult, but specialists say orphan works could make up the bulk of the collections of some major libraries.Critics say that without the orphan books, no competitor will ever be able to compile the comprehensive online library Google aims to create, giving the company more control than ever over the realm of digital information. And without competition, they say, Google will be able to charge universities and others high prices for access to its database.
“This agreement expands access to many of these hard-to-find books in a way that is great for Google, great for authors, great for publishers and great for readers,” said Alexander Macgillivray, the Google lawyer who led the settlement negotiations with the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild.
Most of the critics, which include copyright specialists, antitrust scholars and some librarians, agree that the public will benefit. But they say others should also have rights to orphan works.
Since no such authorization is possible for orphan works, only Google would have access to them, so only Google could assemble a truly comprehensive book database.
Mr. Darnton of Harvard said he feared that without competition Google would be free to “raise the price to unbearable levels.”
But Mr. Macgillivray and Mr. Boni said prices would be kept in check, in part by the goal, spelled out in the agreement, to reach as many customers as possible.
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