Highlights of the Google Books settlement hearing

By Kristopher A. Nelson
in February 2010

400 words / 2 min.
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Norman Oder updates us on the arguments at the Google Books settlement hearing. I found the several following points made by speakers at the hearing particulary interesting.

Please note that this post is from 2010. Evaluate with care and in light of later events.

Norman Oder updates us on the arguments at the Google Books settlement hearing (part 1 and part 2). I found the following points made by speakers at the hearing particulary interesting:

Lateef Mtima, of Howard University School of Law, suggested that the settlement would help the disenfranchised get access to books — and that copyright as a whole “should be an engine, not a brake on social development.” The lone librarian, from the University of Michigan, expressed a similar sentiment, arguing that “Broad social progress depends on being able to find, use, and re-use the scholarly record.”

I find this perspective compelling, as it connects with my own view that copyright’s purpose is not to permanently protect the property of rights-holders, but rather to foster innovation and creativity. Put another way, copyright serves a social purpose beyond rewarding individuals; the creativity and innovation it encourages is supposed to benefit society as a whole.

The concern expressed by the CDT representative, and others, is that there are potential privacy concerns with Google recording electronic access to books in a way that existing access methods (libraries, bookstores) do not is a potential problem, although in many ways it is an inevitable potential issue with any move to electronic texts. Still, I do share the concern that a single company (Google) stands to be the major gateway provider going forward — especially after recent missteps with regards to privacy on Google’s part.

I found other arguments less interesting, including arguments that this “turns copyright on its head” (I don’t see it) or that this doesn’t effectively represent the class because some rights-holders haven’t participated (this is a criticism applicable to most any class action).

My biggest worry is that the barrier of entry for other to scan books as Google has is simply too great, and that Google will become the de facto for-profit curator of what should belong to the public as a whole. But is that concern enough to scuttle the settlement? I’m not sure.

The judge indicated he will be taking his time ruling on this, due to the complexity involved. I would to, if I were him!