U.C. Professors Air Google Book Search Settlement Concerns

Eighteen faculty members for the University of California say they are concerned about the Google Book Search settlement. Though the professors aren't opposing the deal, they are seeking changes that will prevent price-gouging, as well as mechanisms to let academic authors of orphan books license their books to the public domain or Creative Commons. They also share the privacy concerns voiced earlier by the ACLU and EFF.

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Faculty members for the University of California, which publicly supported the deal when it was announced in October 2008, are concerned the deal does not adequately satisfy the needs of academic authors, and that the Authors Guild that agreed to the deal terms with Google negotiated to maximize profits over access to books. The professors want some changes to the deal that they consider to be more friendly to academic authors.

"Specifically, we are concerned that the Authors Guild negotiators likely prioritized maximizing profits over maximizing public access to knowledge, while academic authors would have reversed those priorities," the authors wrote in an Aug. 13 letter to the New York district court slated to review the settlement.

The 18 faculty members who signed the letter said they wrote the court in personal, rather than professional capacities. They chose to write to the court now because they were bound by confidentiality rules the university agreed to during the settlement negotiations last fall.

Google and the Authors Guild raised eyebrows last October when they announced their settlement of a class-action lawsuit, which the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers filed against Google in 2005.

Authors and publishers filed the suit because they were concerned Google's Book Search bid to scan millions of books from libraries and offer them online would violate their copyrights.

In the settlement, Google agreed to pay authors and publishers $125 million for the right to scan and offer the books online to individuals and libraries for fees. Google also agreed to share sales from Google Book Search with authors and publishers.

Privacy advocates and other parties are opposing the deal, and the Department of Justice is investigating the pact, which Judge Denny Chin is reviewing for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Chin is holding a fairness hearing Oct. 7.

In their letter, members of U.C.'s faculty are seeking changes that will prevent price-gouging, noting that the proposed settlement agreement contains "inadequate checks and balances" to prevent the prices of institutional subscriptions from rising substantially over time for subscribers.

The professors also request provisions for "open access choices." Specifically, they request that Google make its Book Search database freely available and transparent to researchers who want to determine the public domain status of a book. The faculty also asks that there be a mechanism to let academic authors of orphan books license their books to the public domain or Creative Commons.

Finally, like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and before them, the professors pulled the privacy card as they wrote.

"When patrons of brick-and-mortar libraries use information resources in libraries to search for and access books of relevance to their inquiries, they have not typically been personally identifiable in respect to those books (except insofar as they checked the books out, and user privacy interests as to patron check-out records are closely protected by libraries under the ALA code). In digital networked environments, however, every query can reveal very significant information about the user and the inquiry in which he/she is engaged. The potential risks to user privacy in digital networked environments are thus far greater than in traditional library contexts."

They ask that Google should be required to give notice to users about requests for disclosure of such information and to provide the users with an opportunity to object to the disclosure as an unwarranted invasion of readers' privacy.