Open Book Alliances opens up assault on Google's book settlement

The Open Book Alliance, a group of library associations, Amazon, Yahoo and Microsoft, have officially unveiled an effort to derail Google's $125 million class action settlement with the Association of American Publishers and the Authors' Guild.

The Open Book Alliance, a group of library associations, Amazon, Yahoo and Microsoft, have officially unveiled an effort to derail Google's $125 million class action settlement with the Association of American Publishers and the Authors' Guild.

The effort, which was publicized last week, is designed to keep Google from becoming the world's library. In a blog post, Peter Brantley and Gary Reback wrote (Techmeme):

One of the most significant developments in the history of publishing could be co-opted by the settlement of a class action lawsuit that creates an unprecedented monopoly and price fixing cartel. Just as Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press more than 700 years ago ushered in a new era of knowledge sharing, the mass digitization of books promises to revolutionize how we read and discover books. But a digital library controlled by a single company and small group of publishers would inevitably lead to higher prices and subpar service for consumers, libraries, scholars, and students.

A proposed settlement to a class action lawsuit settlement among Google, the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and the Authors’ Guild threatens to monopolize the access to and distribution and pricing of the largest digital database of books in the world, cornering much of the value of book digitization and reserving it to the private parties that have negotiated what is essentially both a new policy and a business model governing access to this material without input from appropriate government officials or the public. This is unacceptable.

The Open Book Alliance is insisting that any mass book digitization and distribution effort be open, transparent and competitive. Coincidently (or not), Google announced that it has 1 million public domain titles published under the open ePub format.

Reback and Brantley also argue that Google's 300 page settlement includes a bevy of gotchas on the copyright front. Among them:

  • Google is the only company with the right to copy, display or sell orphan works;
  • Libraries that aren't Google partners today will have to pay "monopoly prices" for access to books;
  • Unless authors opt out by Google's settlement deadline they lose rights to their work. That deadline is Sept. 4.

The group has also cooked up a PDF outlining its take on the Google book settlement.

The topic is an important one and frankly the Google deal makes me squeamish. More reading on the subject: