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Google Book Project passes halfway point

BY NICOLE ABER
Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 10, 2009

Paul Courant, professor of economics and dean of libraries, said the project of digitizing the University’s libraries’ books is more than halfway complete.

The University has partnered up with Google as part of the Google Books Library Project, part of the greater Google Books Search.

As part of the Google Books Project, approximately more than 7 million of the University’s libraries’ books will be digitized and made available free of cost to all members of the University community in 2011.

Google spokeswoman Jennie Johnson said the Google Books Project is a way to further Google’s mission of making information more widely available by taking text currently in various print mediums and making them digital and easily searchable.

“There’s a lot of very high quality information contained in books which are sitting on library shelves, some of them forgotten, some of them very difficult to find, some of them only available in very few libraries around the world,” Johnson said.

Google has already scanned and digitized more than 10 million books from around the world, 2 million of which already have full texts available online.

Courant said the project will change the way students use the library and access books, both at the University and at other universities also partnered with Google for the project like Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Virginia.

The University will also be able to save the text of older books when their paper begins to disintegrate with time by digitizing them through the Google Books Search, Courant said.

“Equally important, maybe more important, if the books are all digitized, we can search them and index them and make them easy for our students and faculty to find online,” Courant said.

The University will not be subject to the institutional subscription fee like most other institutions because of the large role the University has played in the project. All members of the University community will have free access to the digitized library for at least 25 years, Courant said.

Any institution can pay a fee to access the texts within Google Books Search, Johnson said. She noted the potential for smaller colleges with fewer resources to access the larger pool of academic text from larger research institutions’ libraries that will be available.

“That’s really powerful, because it stands to address the inequalities in education and opportunity,” Johnson said.

After the agreement was made between the University and Google in 2004, the Authors Guild filed a lawsuit against Google over copyright issues in Sept. 2005. The lawsuit was brought to a class action settlement in October 2008, in which copyright guidelines were redrawn.

Though the settlement won’t be reviewed until next month, if it is approved, Google will owe the Authors Guild $125 million.

The Authors Guild now supports the Google Books Search in accordance with the terms of the settlement, said to Jan Constantine, general counsel of the Authors Guild. The settlement creates more restricted options than the original Google Books Search would have, which will in turn create more revenue for authors and publishers.

“We feel that the settlement agreement is a good result and is establishing, going forward, new revenue exchange for our authors and publishers,” Constantine said.

Another contested element of the lawsuit was the issue of orphan books, whose rights holders are unable to be found. According to Courant, as part of the settlement, the Google Books Search would be able to digitize and display those books without violating copyright penalties. If rights holders come forward, they can be paid royalties retroactively and retain rights over the text.

Courant said the full text of books that are in copyright, all books printed after 1923, are still not currently accessible online because the settlement has not yet been approved. But all texts that are in the public domain are fully available online.

Though the Authors Guild agrees with the settlement, there are still organizations in opposition to the Google Books Search, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that defends digital rights.

Rebecca Jeschke, media relations director for the foundation, said EFF’s main objection to the Google Books Search stems from its concern for the privacy of books.

“In the physical world there are a lot of legal protections for privacy for books you check out of a library or buy out of a bookstore,” Jeschke said. “We want to make sure that the future of books includes privacy protection.”

Many students, including LSA senior Molly Netter, are excited about the Google Books Search because of its easy accessibility to information.

“I think that’s really convenient for most people at this school (because) I mean I don’t feel like walking to the library to use a book if I’m only going to use two pages from the book, so it works for me,” Netter said.

Rackham student Erica Blom said she thinks the Google Books Search is a good idea, but is still a proponent of hard copies of books as well.

“I still like to physically look at books,” she said. “I don’t really like to read online, so I would hope that they would maintain and update books, like hard copies. But as long as the copyrights aren’t infringed upon, I think any way to make knowledge accessible is good.”