There has been some recent activity and commentary around the proposed settlement of the two cases involving Google Book Search. First, Tim Vollmer from ALA’s Washington Office has pulled together an extensive list of blog postings and other commentary. This is a great resource and I hope Tim continues to keep it up to date.
Also, over at Talking Points Memo’s TPMCafe Book Club there has been an broad ranging discussion of the settlement (or at least in mid-January there was). The discussion is organized around Randall Stross’ recent book Planet Google: One Company’s Audacious Plan to Organize Everything We Know. The discussion then really takes off with separate posts by Nicholas Carr, author of the Atlantic piece “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” NYU law professor James Grimmelman, who posted several suggestions for changes to the settlement the trial judge should insist on in his own blog The Laboratorium, David Vise, author of The Google Story: Inside The Hottest Business, Media and Technology Success of Our Time, and Siva Vaidhyanathan who is preparing his own Google book on his blog The Googlization of Everything.
Much of the conversation raises concerns about Google’s market dominance and their exclusive provision of access to the contents of publicly funded libraries. So far we have little evidence of any bias in the presentation of the scanned books. However, we need to be wary of leaving so much of our documented culture in the hands of a single corporation who may intend to “Do no evil” but who are still primarily responsible to the financial benefit of their shareholders. Remember, Google already gave in to the Chinese government and offers a censored version of search within the borders of the country. The monopolization of the commons could be their next (mis)step.
Robert Darnton makes a similar point in his delightful piece for the New York Review of Books where he too questions the commercialization of content of our library collections and wonders if this may lead to what has happened with scholarly journals since WWII. He also raises concern over the likely result of the settlement to set an extremely steep barrier for any other entrants into this market.
At the recent discussion at ALA’s Midwinter meeting, Dan Clancy from Google said a lot things that should give us more confidence that many of these concerns are over blown. But many questions remain. This is a story worth keeping an eye on.
– Dan Lee