WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Skeptical library groups asked on Monday for “rigorous oversight” of Google’s agreement with authors and publishers that would allow it to put millions of books online.
The American Library Association and Association of Research Libraries said they were concerned that Google would not safeguard readers’ privacy and that it would be the only digital source for many books and major academic journals.
Other groups have complained to the U.S. Justice Department about antitrust elements of the deal, and the department has made inquiries about it.
“This court can address the library associations’ concerns through rigorous oversight of the implementation of the settlement,” the groups said in their brief to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Google, which is seeking to create a digital library, reached an agreement last year with the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers to pursue the project. It is awaiting a judge’s approval.
“Major commercial publishers have been content with strategies that maximize profits by selling subscriptions to few customers at high cost. Typically, these customers are academic and research libraries,” the libraries said in their comments on the settlement.
The library groups are concerned that a subscription to Google books may become indispensable to universities and that subscription rates could skyrocket, said Prue Adler of the ARL, citing the journal Brain Research, which costs $23,000 a year.
The settlement is unusual is that it essentially structures the digitized book search market while that market is in its infancy, said Bert Foer, president of the American Antitrust Institute.
“On the whole what they’re trying to do is remarkably creative,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that the process should avoid the type of public input that would be there in other circumstances.”
Libraries expressed concern that the settlement does not spell out what Google would do with information about users.
This, they said, was in “stark contrast” with steps spelled out in the settlement to secure the digitized books against unauthorized access.
“Evidently, in the settlement negotiations the class representatives insisted on these measures to protect the security of digital copies of their books; but no one demanded protection of user privacy,” the filing said.
Adler said she would push Google to adopt stringent privacy policies.
Google said in a statement that it was “proud to partner with dozens of libraries around the world as part of our book search efforts.”
“We have consistently maintained that, if approved by the court, our settlement agreement stands to unlock access to millions of books for users in the US,” according to an emailed statement.
Philip Zane of the law firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz said the Justice Department could also decide that Google’s offer to put Google books on one terminal per library — no matter how large — was inadequate.
“There may be other things that don’t pass a reasonableness test,” he said. “It would be an enormous concentration of power in one place, and it could really squeeze the libraries. ... I think it’s going to be an extended investigation.”
Attempts to reach the Association of American Publishers for comment were not immediately successful. The Authors Guild had no comment
The case is The Authors Guild, Inc, Association of American Publishers v. Google. Case No. 05 CV 8136-JES
Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing Bernard Orr