The Justice Department has some concerns about the Google settlement. That’s not the “bitterly funny” part. That’s the “ya think?!” part.
Here’s the bitterly funny part:
While Google agreed to share the revenues with the publishers and authors, libraries are worried that Google would have solitary and overwhelming control over access to “orphan books”—titles whose authors and rights-holders have essentially abandoned. Since there’s no other online entity with access to these abandoned books, Google could effectively raise prices for access to the collection and libraries would have nowhere else to go for them.
What’s so funny about that, you ask? Well, where do you think Google got copies of these orphaned titles to scan in the first place? I’ll give you a hint–it starts with “the” and ends with “libraries.”
Granted, it wasn’t all libraries. The public library in Stillwater could not control what the library at the University of Michigan was doing. And I was sitting in Charleston when the terms of the settlement were announced and, in my opinion, it was pretty obvious even then that even other academic libraries realized that a handful of the largest academic libraries in the country had signed a deal with the Devil that could mean the end of all of their existences.
But I’m still laughing a little bit because when publishers first found out about this academic library/Google set up and publishers said, “Um, excuse me. There’s no interpretation of copyright law that allows a library to give our content to Google,” many, many libraries were like, “What? We need digital archives. It’s the wave of the future. And information longs to be free. So ‘fair use’ now includes us getting to let Google make digital copies of our collection. What are you going to do about it anyway? Be free, information, be free.” Well, information might want to be free, but a bunch of folks, across the board, would like to be paid. Including librarians.
And yet, here we are. Having given Google the farm, it’s suddenly dawning on the folks that handed over the keys to the place that the folks who were complaining about the theft of their chickens were onto something, now that there’s no eggs.