UC in Discussions to Join Google Library Project

According to the LA Times, the UC library system is in discussions to join the Google Library project:

Google is keen to have access to UC’s 34 million volumes from 100 libraries on 10 campuses, which is described as collectively the largest academic research library in the world. UC wants to delve more deeply into the Internet revolution with a deep-pockets partner like Google paying the costs of scanning books.

As I’ve argued in a number of previous posts, publishers and authors should be delighted to have Google bootstrap them into the digital era, but unfortunately, the big NY publishers and the author’s guild don’t see it that way. (See Google Library vs. Publishers, Author’s Guild Suit, and Google’s Response, NY Times Op Ed on Author’s Guild Suit Against Google, and Only 4% of Titles are Being Commercially Exploited for more background.)

While there are many concerns about the kind of market power Google could acquire over publishing as a result of this project, Google’s initiative is innovative, useful, and a real boost to an industry that has yet to make significant headway with electronic books. What I think actually motivates the concern of publishers is the same as the concern that the music industry had: “Oh sh*t, someone is doing what we should have done years ago, and now we’re going to have to play catchup.” Sorry, the future doesn’t wait.

The arguments marshalled by the publishers display either cynicism or shocking ignorance about how search engines work. If it’s not fair use to make a copy of a book in order to make a search index, it’s not fair use to make a copy of a web page either. Google doesn’t actually show the pages from the book to a user unless it’s in the public domain or they have permission from the publisher.

I had a debate a couple of weeks ago with a well-known west coast literary agent at the Stanford Publishing Course. She was fulminating about how what Google is doing is nothing but theft. “Do you know how a search engine works?” I asked. “No.” “Well then, have you ever used Google?” “No.”

Even more telling was a conversation overheard later in the course, in which a publisher of significant size remarked, in a display of bafflement worthy of Senator Ted Stevens: “What bothers me about the Google project is that I’ve heard they are scanning two copies of the book. What I want to know is: what are they doing with the second copy?!” What I want to know is whether I should laugh or cry.

Back to the LA Times article. It marshals some more good arguments for the Google Library project:

Daniel Greenstein, UC’s associate vice provost for scholarly information, said that joining the Google Books Library Project — with its ability to search for terms inside texts, not only 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.”

In an interview Tuesday, Greenstein said that such 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,” said Greenstein, who oversees digital projects for UC libraries.

A UC deal with Google could be announced within a month, officials said. However, the arrangement first faces close scrutiny from the UC regents and the publishing world for potential copyright issues and concerns that UC might lose out on future revenue.