Professors File Petition Against Google Books Settlement

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Emma Anderson talks to professor Pamela Samuelson about the controversy surrounding Google scanning and providing copyrighted books for internet browsers.

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From UC Berkeley to Cornell University, more than 80 professors have signed a petition against a pending settlement agreement between Google Inc. and authors and publishers.

The petition calls into question provisions within the settlement which, although providing authors and publishers with some monetary compensation, allows Google to have a "de facto monopoly" over books scanned in a digital library project, among other provisions.

The controversy began when Google began an ambitious project to create a universal digital library of the world's books. Soon after, publishers and authors filed a class action lawsuit against Google for the scanning of copyrighted books without prior permission. The resulting settlement agreement was negotiated under terms disagreeable to some.

According to the petition, co-written by Pamela Samuelson, a UC Berkeley professor of law and information, some of the main issues professors found with the settlement include the amount of compensation money for the past scanning of books as well as insufficient privacy protections.

"One concern I have is that the agreement calls for lots and lots of monitoring of what people read and doesn't have any privacy protections." Samuelson said. "That creeps me out."

She said Thursday is the last day for authors to reject the terms of the settlement as well as to file objections to the settlement for the presiding judge to review.

If authors comply with the settlement, Samuelson said they must waive trademark and publicity rights in their names, likenesses and character names.

"Google Books is not a library," she said. "A library does not have any right to stop you from commercializing."

If the author rejects the settlement, Google may still be able to scan his or her books, Samuelson said. The author would then have to individually sue Google for copyright infringement in order for his or her work to be removed, the cost of which could be very expensive for authors, according to Samuelson.

If they choose to simply file an objection to the settlement, the judge must consider each objection when deliberating the settlement's outcome. If the judge decides that the author's objection is valid, it could lead to changes in the settlement, but if he rejects the objection, the author would still be bound to settlement terms, she added.

In a Jan. 27 campus memo in response to Samuelson's petition, UC Berkeley professor of economics, business and information Hal Varian said he sees the benefits the settlement would bring.

"The agreement is not perfect, but I believe it to be a huge improvement over the status quo for authors, publishers, scholars and the general public," Varian said in the memo. "In my view it deserves the enthusiastic support of all Berkeley faculty."

The pending settlement also has an effect on a previous agreement between the UC system and Google. In 2006, the university joined in Google's virtual library initiative by agreeing to scan millions of books from university libraries for online use. At the time, the Google initiative was already under fire for the copyright scandal, but the university

decided to allow the scanning of copyrighted books.

Now, with the settlement decision still looming overhead, Daniel Greenstein, vice provost for academic planning, programs and coordination, said the university will need to sign a new agreement with Google that reflects the terms of the settlement. There would not likely be any drastic changes, he said.

"Our relationship with Google will remain largely the same," he said in an e-mail. "What will be different will be the terms governing the uses ... of the digital copies they make of our books," Greenstein said. "We believe the changes will be to the benefit of the UC and the scholarly and library communities generally."

He added that he hoped the settlement would be approved in court.

"I would be stunned if the courts kick this out," he said. "This is a huge opportunity ... and an author really needs to think hard about the open

access of it."


Contact Emma Anderson and Allie Bidwell at [email protected]

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