Google to give libraries say on prices for scanned books

The University of Michigan is the first to file an amended deal with the search giant over its book scanning program

The University of Michigan has become the first library to amend its book scanning deal with Google, following a proposed settlement that Google reached last year with authors and publishers that sued it.

As part of the amended deal, other institutions can pay a subscription to access the University of Michigan's digitized books. Since Google will set those fees, the University of Michigan will be able to challenge the fee and the parties will settle any disagreements in arbitration.

The agreement follows the proposed settlement deal reached in October between Google and the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, which sued Google for copyright violation for scanning books without always getting permission from the copyright owners of the books.

The fees for accessing the digitized books will be determined on a tiered basis, so an institution like Harvard might pay more than a small public library, said Jennie Johnson, a Google spokeswoman.

Any public or college library will also be able to let patrons view the entire catalog of the university's scanned books for free from one computer. If they want to allow broader access, they'll be required to pay the subscription.

Google will also donate at least US$5 million to the University of Michigan and others that sign new book scanning agreements, to support the kind of research enabled by such a large catalog of digital books. "It provides academics, computer scientists, linguists with tremendous research opportunities," Johnson said.

If Google's settlement with the authors' groups is approved by the court, it will offer the University of Michigan a free subscription to access all the books Google has digitized from 29 libraries around the world.

The deal also includes more support for allowing people with disabilities to access the books and will enable improved digital copies. It also stipulates safeguards so that even if Google were to go out of business, the digital copies of the books will still be available. In addition, it leaves the door open for Google to display advertising alongside the books, in a similar way that it does with books submitted by publishers in Book Search.

The settlement, which must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, has its critics. Pamela Samuelson, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, argues that the proposed settlement is in essence a way to monetize so-called orphan works, and that it is questionable whether the deal represents the best interests of the authors of such works. Orphan works are those for which no one claims ownership, either because the author is dead or the publishing house no longer exists.

Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit group, argues that the proposal gives Google special protections against lawsuits over the orphan works. Those special protections would discourage other potential Google competitors from entering the digital book business unless they could negotiate a similar protection, the group argues.

The group urged the U.S. Department of Justice to examine the settlement. While the DOJ does not discuss matters it is looking into, a person close to the matter recently confirmed to IDG News Service that the DOJ is in the early stages of seeking information about the proposed settlement but has not launched a formal inquiry.

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Nancy Gohring

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