Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Google War heats up...

There has been a growing discontent with the Google Book Settlement from a number of sources, and a new coalition of groups opposing the proposed settlement has been formed, called the Open Book Alliance.

I have to admit that I don't know quite where I stand on the issue. The idea that Google could potentially have a monopolistic control over electronic access to the electronic full text that they are amassing from the collections of some of the world's great libraries is troubling. Google's motto is "Don't be Evil", but they have had a history of making decisions that seem not evil, but less than "good" by anyone's standards but their own. And anyone who really believes that Google is doing this out of the goodness of their heart needs a serious consult with reality - they have sunk a lot of money into this, and it's clear that they have been thinking of how to recoup those expenditures. On the other hand, the folks making arguments against Google in this case - Microsoft, Amazon, and Yahoo, among others - have their own histories of not exactly playing well with others.

One thing that both sides agree on is that increasing access to resources in the public domain is A Good Thing. But as usual, the devil is in the details. The main problem, for me and a lot of other folks, is that Google is being precious close with those details. So I guess I am squarely in the "yes, but..." camp on this one. But keep your eyes open and pay attention to how this all shakes out. It certainly has the potential to make a huge and lasting impact on information accessibility, the publishing industry, copyright law, libraries, and the online industry.