Must-Read: Tim Wu: What Ever Happened to Google Books?

Must-Read: I wonder: Berkeley’s very sharp Pam Samuelson played a substantial role in helping to create this cluster#@$%. Yet I haven’t heard much from her trying to fix it. I wonder why not?

Tim Wu: What Ever Happened to Google Books?: “It was the most ambitious library project of our time…

…a plan to scan all of the world’s books and make them available to the public online…. Today, the project sits in a kind of limbo. On one hand, Google has scanned an impressive thirty million volumes… but… most of it remains inaccessible. Searches of out-of-print books often yield mere snippets of the text–there is no way to gain access to the whole book…. It would be the world’s first online library worthy of that name. And yet the attainment of that goal has been stymied, despite Google having at its disposal an unusual combination of technological means, the agreement of many authors and publishers, and enough money to compensate just about everyone who needs it. The problems began with a classic culture clash when, in 2002, Google began just scanning books, either hoping that the idealism of the project would win everyone over or following the mantra that it is always easier to get forgiveness than permission….

By 2008, representatives of authors, publishers, and Google did manage to reach a settlement to make the full library available to the public, for pay, and to institutions. In the settlement agreement, they also put terminals in libraries, but didn’t ever get around to doing that. But that agreement then came under further attacks from a whole new set of critics, including the author Ursula Le Guin, who called it a ‘deal with the devil.’… Four years ago, a federal judge sided with the critics and threw out the 2008 settlement…. ‘Sounds like a job for Congress,’ James Grimmelmann, a law professor at the University of Maryland and one of the settlement’s more vocal antagonists, said at the time. But, of course, leaving things to Congress has become a synonym for doing nothing…. Google… [could] have declared the project a non-profit…. Authors and publishers… were difficult and conspiracy-minded…. Outside critics and the courts were entirely too sanguine about killing, as opposed to improving, a settlement…

October 6, 2015


Brad DeLong
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