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Sergey’s Last Ditch Effort to Defend Google Books Project

Today’s Op-Ed Column of NYT features a very long article by Google’s Sergey Brin. And the topic? Something which is close to my heart – the controversial Google Books Project. In case you didn’t know, I’m a librarian by education and profession. But that’s not the point of this post but rather on the many points that Sergey made in his piece. So, let’s get it on.

Why Google is so Interested in Digitizing Out-of-Print Books, According to Sergey?

After opening up his article with a very informative references to some historical data and facts, Sergey proceeded by saying that he would have not known those information if not for the books containing them which are now in public domain. But the problem is the vast majority of books ever written are not accessible to anyone as most of them are buried deep within the shelves of major academic libraries.

It’s good if those libraries were able to preserver and continue to serve those books to users. But what about those libraries housing important old books which were stricken by natural calamities. Most get out-of-print and become difficult to retrieve if not lost or forgotten by the library custodians themselves.

That’s were Google Books, previously known as Google Books Project come in. By digitizing public domain and out-of-print but in-copyright books and make them available via Google Search to everyone, willing enough to use Google Search in their quest for knowledge and information.  Users may read these books for free but supported with ads or for a fee minus the ads. Google promises to give the authors majority  of whatever revenue those ads would generate. How much that majority of revenue exactly is, we really don’t know and certainly Sergey will not divulge.

Why is the Google Books Project so Controversial?

In his article, Sergey tried to dispel some allegations thrown at them by the detractors of the Google Books Project. First he said that the Google Books Projects allow copyright holders of the books digitzed by Google to set the pricing and access rights to their work. Hence it’s not a form of compulsory license that Google has all the right. Copyright holders can even withdraw their work from the project anytime they want to.

Another point of contention pertains to a possible adverse effect of the project to fair competition as it might limit consumer choice with respect to out-of-print books. Sergey said that actually Google never specified in the Book Agreement that other entities should not emulate what Google is doing.

And of course there were also issue on the quality of Google’s work when it comes to providing the correct bibliographic information, classification system and details of privacy policy. Sergey defended the project by saying the Google is working on those issues, particularly on improving bibliographic information and categorization.

What Did Sergey Missed?  Search Ads

It’s not so often that I read a long article from start to end. Sergey’s article actually made me do it because I was waiting for a mention on how Google is to profit from this endeavor.

Perhaps Sergey was not aware or he totally forgot that  Google will be running search ads on the books that they are going to digitize. Google would definitely take advantage of the vast amount of information that will be available online to run targeted ads on them.

Sergey ended his article:

I hope such destruction never happens again, but history would suggest otherwise. More important, even if our cultural heritage stays intact in the world’s foremost libraries, it is effectively lost if no one can access it easily. Many companies, libraries and organizations will play a role in saving and making available the works of the 20th century. Together, authors, publishers and Google are taking just one step toward this goal, but it’s an important step. Let’s not miss this opportunity.

So, any reactions from a a non-librarians point of view?

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Sergey’s Last Ditch Effort to Defend Google Books Project

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