Journals Senior Editor Karie Kirkpatrick chimes in on the recent Google settlement event in Boston:
On Wednesday, the Boston Public Library hosted a lively panel on the Google Book Search settlement, the approval for which is currently in the hands of the court. Authors, librarians, publishers, scholars, and other stakeholders packed the Rabb Lecture Hall to hear firsthand about the particulars of the settlement and how it would impact them.
Engineering Director Daniel Clancy started the engaging discussion by providing a brief history and mission of the Google Book Searchproject, highlighting events leading up to the lawsuit settlement (Google's partnerships with libraries, claims of fair use, and the Authors Guild and Association for American Publishers lawsuits). Clancy noted that this project, which has fundamentally changed access and discovery to book content as Google seeks to digitize the world's library, has brought a lot of exposure to publishers and to content that would not otherwise be used. Ann Wolpert, Director of MIT Libraries, called the settlement a "phenomenal change" and noted that Google Book Search is "wonderful as a product," but like the other panelists she expressed several concerns about the the project going forward.
Perhaps the word of the evening was "queasiness." Wolpert discussed her queasiness about commercialization, Google's control over institutional subscription costs for the product, as well as its control over orphan works with the establishment of the Book Rights Registry. Hal Abelson, MIT Professor of Computer Science and Technology, expressed his queasiness about the overwhelming "transformation of written culture" and his uneasiness surrounding the road Google could take regarding privacy and censorship. Harvard Law School Professor John Palfrey, who initiated the term "queasiness" for the evening, asked the audience, "are we going to be OK with [Google] having control over this in ten years?"
And yet, the overall message of the evening was the importance of access. Google is fundamentally transforming libraries, the publishing industry, and the way people search and discover information. As queasy as the panelists and any audience member may be about Google's strong hand in digitizing the world's books, as Palfrey strongly notes, no one else had the "chutzpah" to take on this impressive feat. His message to librariansand publishers: "We blew it. Google got it first. . . . It's game over."
After listening to the details of the plan and pondering all of the viewpoints presented that evening, all parties involved must now sit back and see what the court decides. If the settlement is approved, it will be interesting to see how the stakeholders help shape Google Book Search's future. Stay tuned.
PS: The Boston Globe's D.C. Denison also wrote about the event.