Blown To Bits

More on the Google Book Deal

Thursday, October 30th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

Siva Vaidhyanathan has a good summary of the deal, in the details of which may lie the devil. Like me, he regrets that we won’t now get any clarification on the limits of fair use in the digital age — though he thinks Google would have lost, which would have been a disaster since it would have strengthened the hand of the content industry to keep cracking down on people using small amounts of material for commentary or indexing.

He notes that as long as we rely on Google book search, it’s better for us if it works better. And it will work better — Google will be free to show larger excerpts from copyrighted works. But the deal also will firm up Google’s status as the dominant digital book depository. And in light of the anti-trust issue that raises, Siva notes an interesting coincidence: Google CEO Eric Schmidt hit the road campaigning for Barack Obama last week, just at the moment when the parties must have been hammering out the final draft of this agreement.

And finally, he cautions us not to get too excited about the deal until the court has approved it.

In a related development, Harvard has announced that its library won’t be extending its cooperation with Google to its collection of in-copyright materials, because the deal places too many restrictions on the ways in which they would be made available. Google has been digitizing only the out-of-copyright works in Harvard’s collection, though apparently Harvard’s position has been that Google’s entire project was legal. Not clear to me that Harvard’s decision poses any great problems for Google, since there tend to be multiple sources for copyrighted works.

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