Google Books Derailed

Copyright and the protection of intellectual property are a vanguard of librarianship. Not only do our patrons (a fancy librarian word for customer) find resources in our collections, but they can also learn the proper way to present and cite works created by others. This is of particular importance in our digital age where just about everything can be reduced to the zeroes and ones of binary code, the behind-the-scenes codex of digitized items. One can easily scan, copy and paste, or burn someone else’s creation into their own digital document and claim it as their own. Librarians strive to educate their constituents as to the value of citing the original creator or the detriments of simply making a copy of someone else’s blood, sweat, and tears for the dubious cause of convenience.

When Google announced several years ago that they were intent on scanning and digitizing the worlds’ libraries, one would think this would be a cause for rejoicing. Nothing gives librarians more gratification that improving access and findability of new resources for those on the hunt. However, the problem with Google’s plan was they were going to digitize everything. Even stuff printed after 1923, the drop dead date for public domain items. These post-1923 items are mostly still under copyright protection. I say mostly because many were created under old laws that required copyright renewal after a certain number of years. Some were renewed, some weren’t. Rule of thumb is to assume they were renewed and track down the creator to ask permission. Many of these works have creators who cannot be found or who have simply disappeared; hence, the term orphan works. Google’s plan was to simply digitize it all into their monolithic collection and provide the creators an opt-out option meaning we’ll go ahead and digitize it and make your creation available to one and all, but you’ll need to tell us if you don’t want this to take place.

After years in the courts, a ruling was finally issued in NY district court that rejected the Google Books settlement. The judge ruled that Google’s plan veered too close to the establishment of a monopoly of information, not to mention the concern regarding the blanket usage of all works, particularly orphan works.

As always, stay tuned.


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