Google Print Faces More Opposition

Publishers continue to line up in opposition to Google’s ambitious efforts to digitize and make public the content of several major libraries, saying an olive branch recently extended by Google doesn’t go far enough to assuage copyright concerns.

Within the past week, the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) and the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) have both issued statements strongly opposing Google Print. The groups say that even with a moratorium on scanning of copyrighted books in place and even with an “opt-out” policy being offered, copyright-protected works will still be swept up in the push to put books online.

Not Good Enough

Google recently said it would suspend the scanning of copyrighted works — except in cases where it had express permission from the owner– until at least November. But publishers are balking at the “opt-out” approach that Google has proposed.

The search engine has said that if it is not provided with a specific list of titles that publishers do not want scanned, it will proceed with the digitization process. The Google Print project includes several university libraries in the U.S. and the UK as well as the New York City Public Library.

Despite the opt-out clause, “The revised policy is virtually the same as the previous one,” The AAUP wrote in a statement opposing the plan. “Google still asserts that it may make digital copies of all books in copyright, and that they will respect the copyrights only of those who supply Google with a list of books for which rights must be recognized. In other words, Google, an enormously successful company, claims a sweeping right to appropriate the property of others for its own commercial use unless it is told, case by case and instance by instance, not to.”

In a lengthy position paper on changes to Google Print, ALPSP noted that its problem was mainly with the library portion of the effort and that many publishers were willingly taking part in the Google Print project directly, providing books to Google so they can be scanned and searched.

But on the library digitization effort, the group called for “an urgent meeting with representatives of all major publishing organizations, in order to work out an acceptable pragmatic way forward and to avoid legal action.”

Public Relations Fiasco?

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest developments. The library project is just one of several places where Google now finds itself facing copyright issues, with everything from its Web search and paid search listings to its news search functions all coming under attack for offering opportunities for copyright infringement.

Ironically, many analysts lauded the Google Print project when it was first announced, saying the sheer ambition and scope of it — at the time, the search engine said it would cost at least US$150 million to complete — spoke well of Google’s ambitions to help collect and categorize many different types of information.

“When they announced it, it seemed to underscore that they were the only company on the Internet with the vision, ambition and technology to do this,” Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li told the E-Commerce Times. “It seemed to only enhance Google’s reputation.”

Since then, however, Google has faced criticism on a number of fronts. European officials, for instance, have worried that the project would result in mainly English-language books being represented on the Web. And privacy advocates have expressed worries that the digital nature of Google Print would enable users’ book-reading histories to be subpoenaed by law enforcement.

Murky Area

Other publishing groups have also lashed out at the effort, including the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and general interest book publishers such as Random House, Houghton-Mifflin and John Wiley & Sons.

Many publishers have mixed feelings about Google Print. The industry may stand to gain, after all, from Google’s efforts, as those who search for specific information in books go on to purchase them from links provided by Google to publishers themselves or third parties that sell the books.

Legal experts, meanwhile, say the project is in a gray area of copyright law, with Google’s claim of fair use having merit, but the search engine also exposing itself to considerable risk, since individual copyright infringements can carry penalties of up to $150,000.

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