The L.A.Times reports that UC President Robert C. Dynes and UC librarians are negotiating with Google to allow the scanning and posting on the Internet at least summary references to books.
Public domain books (books published before 1923) can be scanned in full, while books published after that would still be protected by copyright and must have permission to publish any or all of the material.
The Google Books Library Project -- which has the ability to search for terms inside texts, not just in catalog listings -- would help "create access like we've never had before to our cultural heritage and scholarly memory. It's a whole new paradigm," said Daniel Greenstein, UC's associate vice provost for scholarly information.
Greenstein also said that digitizing offers protection for writings that might be lost in natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and earthquakes. "It's the kind of stewardship that is absolutely vital to us and the community in general."
The negotiations are being watched closely for potential copyright issues and concerns that UC might lose out on future revenue.
Under agreements with libraries, Google makes two copies of books, keeps one and gives one to the campuses. To avoid trouble, some of the libraries now allow scanning of only public domain books. But the University of Michigan and Google have said they do not need permission to allow a few sentences from copyrighted works online; such "fair use" quotation, they said, can help authors by boosting sales.
UC probably would follow the Michigan model in scanning works both in and out of copyright, Greenstein said. "This is not about breaking the law or stealing material," he said, stressing that university attorneys have approved the idea.
The UC Regents, chiefly concerned with UC's finances, voiced fears about the impact of UC's bottom line.
"The sense is to move forward with caution and to be able to defend that this is fair to the university for the next 30 years," said board President Gerald L. Parsky. In an interview this week, UC Regent Norman J. Pattiz, chairman of radio company Westwood One, said he too wanted to ensure that the university shared in any future revenues the pact might generate.
"It may be a good enough deal today. But I don't know Google's business plan in the future," he said. "We are in the Information Age and things change every 15 seconds. Somewhere down the line, there may be a business plan that provides for generating revenue."
UC system spokesman Michael Reese said that several regents would be consulted, but that the matter would be decided by Dynes and does not require a vote by the full Board of Regents.