The Battle for the Books Inside Google's Gambit to Create the World's Biggest Library - Jeff John Roberts Short but enlightening summary of the events and issues surrounding the infamous Google book digitization project.

First, let's get my biases out of the way. I'm a retired academic library director who also happened to be the IT Director at my college, and as such I drool over the idea of having all of the books in the world available on line and fully searchable. I also believe the publishers and especially the Author's Guild are making a huge mistake by fighting Google on digitization. Rather than seeing this as a way to make money, they remain mired in the 19th century, seeing it only as a threat.

The project is the brainchild of the two Google founders and clearly it's a labor of love for them. They often cite the example of the Library of Alexandria which had made an effort to accumulate universal knowledge but was burned in 48 B.C.E. by Julius Caesar, a calamity. Brin and Page simply want all the world's information to be retrievable. "As for Page and Brin themselves, they don’t seem to have cared whether the world thought they were visionaries or villains. They had a task to accomplish. As Winograd [a former teacher at Stanford] said, 'I think if you ask them, [they’d say] this is going to get done, even in five years. This is the technological imperative — information must be searchable. They’re often more in tune to the technological imperative than to social barriers.' " It's ironic that publishers and authors can now been seen as "social barriers" by some.

After initial praise, including participation from Harvard, reaction built to apocalyptic proportions, adversaries (now joined by Robert Darnton at Harvard, and, ironically, Lawrence Lessig) claiming that the project represents the end of the world in a conflagration of multiple bibliographic dystopias. " The company’s legal boldness has ruffled authors and publishers, but also made plain just how ill-suited many copyright rules are to an era in which anyone can copy entire books with the click of a mouse."

The linkage between the library community and the engineering mindset of Google is fascinating. Librarians generally adopt a philosophy that promotes sharing (although as a board member of a multi-type system in Illinois, it became obvious to me that librarians, public, in particular, really like borrowing, but abhor sharing: God forbid another public library might get first crack at *their* patrons' new books first, something that digital union catalogs has fostered.)

Personally, I think Google's reliance on pushing the envelope of what constitutes "fair use" and relying on that to push the frontier, is misplaced. Google should have publicly proposed (they secretly did, and that was a problem, the company's excessive desire for keeping everything secret) a royalty to the author for each access to one of the scanned books. The original settlement between the Author's Guild and Google has been thrown out so what will happen remains to be seen. The Author's Guild original settlement was for a lump sum, which, as far as I can determine, benefited no one except the AG lawyers and staff. All that being said [spoiler alert] the author believes that the battle has petered out and it will be a while before the huge file of books Google has (note that Robert Darnton, who shoved Google's initiative under the bus, has started his own competing initiative, but then he really wants to be Librarian of Congress) ever becomes available.

*One fascinating detail is that the University of Michigan under Wilkin (bless him) proceeded to digitize books still under copyright reckoning that since the University was a state agency he could not be sued since copyright law is federal and the 11th amendment prohibited another state or person outside the state from suing a state. (The story of why we have an 11th amendment is fascinating in itself - go look it up, it was a major set back for a new Supreme Court in 1795, Georgia leading the charge against what it perceived as an attack on its sovereignty. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleventh_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution) However--- " in Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123(1908), the Supreme Court ruled that federal courts may enjoin state officials from violating federal law."

**For anyone who cares, I've embarked on my own little project. A company in CA will scan books for $1.00 per 100 pages and then send me the digital file as a pdf. (They use the guillotine method that destroys the original so there is no hint of copyright problem since they are merely replacing the format.) I then run the pdf against a really good OCR program which then creates an html file which I then convert to an epub and mobi file in Caliber. Outstanding. I'm doing this for all the big tomes I own which take up so much frigging room and are hard to physically read. Other books I own for which there are digital files, I purchase and then sell the physical copies on Amazon. There are tons of OP books that I wish would get scanned and made available. I'd gladly pay something for them on Google Books, but until they sort out the mess...

*** Another interesting tidbit: "To track and record what it was scanning, Google relied on bar codes and bibliographic data from its library partners. But not all the time. Upon visiting its first U.K. partner, Oxford University, Google executives were astonished to discover that large portions of the medieval school’s collections are organized by size rather than U.S.-style subject headings. “You get real efficiencies if you lump all small books together, big books together, and thick books together,” Oxford librarian Michael Popham explained to me." Just think if they had shelved them by color, then the next time someone came in looking for a book of which he could only remember the color...