Friday, May 15, 2009

More unfairness from Google book settlement

A few more thoughts to add to my recent post about the proposed Google books settlement:

Libraries are incurring significant unreimbursed costs as they provide books for scanning. Rick Prelinger (a board member of the Internet Archive) recently pointed out to me that it costs several dollars per book for librarians and conservators to inspect books, OK them for scanning, and reshelve them upon return. He says large libraries are running up costs in the millions, and some libraries are unlikely ever to agree to similar deals in the future. Thus, not only are our tax dollars and donations further supporting Google in their efforts, the fact that these costs are never recovered means that Google's effective monopoly is even more entrenched.

I noted in my earlier post that authors and publishers will receive a share of the revenues derived from books which were written and published by others. You might ask "why" or "how can this be"; both are good questions which deserve to be addressed in more detail.

The answer to "how" is fairly simple: for all books still under copyright protection, Google will report and remit revenue to a yet-to-be-built Book Registry. Authors and/or publishers of books under copyright must register their books with the Registry in order to receive their fair share of revenues. Any books still under copyright but not claimed by any author or publisher comprise what have become known as "orphan" books. Google will report and remit monies derived from orphan books, along with other books; in fact, Google may not even know which books are orphans. Any money that is derived from orphan books will first be put toward defraying the Registry's operating costs; any remaining "orphan" monies will be split between suitable charities and all registered authors/publishers by some "fair" formula. Thus, authors and publishers will receive funds for books to which they have no relation at all.

The answer to "why" is not so simple, except that the authors and publishers were the parties who filed the class-action suit. Libraries were not a party to the suit, so they're effectively left out.

Given that (a) the libraries (as supported by our tax dollars and donations) have preserved the books for decades to make scanning possible, and (b) given that the libraries have spent significant amounts of their own money preparing and shipping the books for scanning, doesn't it thus seem fair that the libraries ought to get a chance at the revenue stream? Perhaps a share of the "orphan" book money? Or a small (single-digit) percentage of all the money flowing into the registry? After all, without the work of the libraries, none of this new revenue-stream would have been possible.