Last week, the Author's Guild joined three authors in a class action suit against Google, arguing that the company's plan to create searchable digital copies of three university library collections infringes on the copyrights to their work. Before the year is out, trade and academic publishers are also likely to file suit against Google for creating electronic copies of work it has not negotiated to buy from them. But it doesn't have to be that way. If Google were to offer publishers more than the chance to opt out—by a November 1 deadline—it might be able to dodge the second court case.
When Google offered that escape clause earlier this month, my first reaction was that the university press where I work should take it. Otherwise, libraries could offer unrestricted Web access to our content without paying for it. But when I considered what might happen if Google, libraries and university presses stopped trying to convince each other of their authority and actually worked together, it occurred to me that there might be a solution that helps us all avoid costly and time-consuming litigation.
First, let's look at our assets. Google has the technology to scan, index, store and distribute information. What it doesn't always have is the legal right to the information it covets. Libraries have some of the same technological abilities, along with collections and professional staff who specialize in providing information to their communities. As with Google, however, libraries don't have the right to reproduce their holdings. The university presses share the libraries' mission to disseminate scholarship. All they have is stewardship of the rights to the work they publish.
Here's what can we offer each other. If Google is already planning to scan our books and add them to their search results, why couldn't they offer our press a high-resolution copy, in addition to the file they are already offering the university library from which they obtained it? With books that are out of print, that would allow publishers to offer the title through print-on-demand, and Google to rank it among its search results, with those glorious "buy the book" links. In addition, why couldn't Google host the library's files and only allow unrestricted access to that particular library's users? That would help ensure that libraries wouldn't cut into our market by freely disseminating our work.
What would Google get out of this arrangement? It would avoid litigation by getting clear-cut legal permission from publishers to scan, store, index and display page views of our content (under Google Print for Publishers restrictions), and to sell ads next to that content. Libraries would get files of their holdings, or access to them, with legal permission to give their communities use of the content in electronic form. UPs and their authors would get new access to old content, and new venues for selling everything we publish or have published in the past.
There has been speculation in the industry that Google may be preparing to sell some of the content it's indexing. If the digital rights management made sense, and our share of the revenues were reasonable, I would welcome that. But first, Google and libraries need to obtain permission from publishers to use our work, and to cooperate with us as new technologies offer new models to try. Above all, we need to work together. Otherwise, we'll only see each other in court.
Tony Sanfilippo is the marketing and sales director at Penn State Press.