Our Principles For the Mass Digitization of Books: Protecting Innovation, Competition, And The Public Interest

by Peter Brantley

Friday marks an important deadline in the ongoing debate about the Google Book Settlement. It’s the deadline for the Department of Justice to submit its findings to the US District Court.

The members of the Open Book Alliance recognize the tremendous value that the mass digitization of books can bring to consumers, libraries, scholars and students. Making books searchable, readable and downloadable promises to unlock huge amounts of our collective cultural knowledge for a broader audience than was ever possible.

However, as we’ve said repeatedly, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about this. The current settlement proposal is the wrong way. It would stifle innovation and competition in favor of a monopoly over the access, distribution, and pricing of the largest digital database of books in the world.

The right way to make the promise of the digitization of books a reality must follow these principles:

  • Any mass book digitization and publishing effort be open and competitive vs. exclusive and monopolistic.
  • It needs to prioritize and promote long-term benefits for consumers rather than isolated commercial interests.
  • It must be done in a way that respects authors’ rights, rather than trampling them.
  • The process of achieving this promise must be undertaken in the open, grounded in sound public policy vs. a private settlement that bypasses the rights and responsibilities of our elected officials.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt says that he doesn’t want to hear criticisms of their “solution”, but would rather hear critics come up with a better solution. Well, there are no easy solutions to this challenge, but the Open Book Alliance and other reasonable voices have suggested some possible paths to explore, including compulsory licensing of digitized books, continued oversight by the Department of Justice to ensure a level competitive playing field, and Congressional action to address copyright and orphan works laws.

It’s important to remember that this controversy was created by Google and its partners in the first place; it isn’t incumbent upon the huge number of innocent bystanders to fix their bad deal. But we are more than happy to continue to engage in discussions about how to make the promise of the digitization of books a reality, discussions that will never occur if this settlement is allowed to proceed as it is currently written.

The Open Book Alliance sees the mass digitization of books as one of the most important developments in knowledge-sharing in centuries. Our hope is that it is done in a way that benefits the largest number of people across the economic and geographic spectrum, while protecting innovation, competition, and the public interest.

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The mass digitization of books promises to bring tremendous value to consumers, libraries, scholars, and students. The Open Book Alliance will work to advance and protect this promise. And, by...


What Experts Are Saying About the Settlement…

Important Dates

December 14, 2009
Notice begins

January 28, 2010
Deadline for authors to opt out of the settlement

January 28, 2010
Deadline to file objections and/or amicus briefs

February 4, 2010
Deadline to file notice of intent to appear at Fairness Hearing

February 4, 2010
DOJ response

February 11, 2010
Plaintiffs move for final approval

February 18, 2010
Final Fairness Hearing

March 31, 2011
Deadline to claim Books and Inserts