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The Google Book Settlement: Implications for Educators and Librarians

By Kim D. Gainer, Radford University, Radford VA

Educators and public librarians may want to carefully watch the progress of the Google Book Settlement. This agreement between Google and two groups of publishers and authors will govern the public’s access to the millions of books that have been digitized by Google in cooperation with several publishers and major research libraries. If the settlement is approved in its current form, public libraries and certain institutions of higher education will be eligible to apply for subscriptions to a free Public Access Service that allows students and library patrons broader use of Google’s book database than will be permitted to individuals searching the database through private connections. Those with access to the licensed service will be able to read the full texts of books that are under copyright but not in print; individuals who instead search the database through unaffiliated web browsers will only be able to view short passages of such books. This free Public Access Service will be made available to one computer station in each separate building in any public library system in the United States that requests it. At not-for-profit two-year colleges, the service may be accessed via one computer station per 4,000 students. At other not-for-profit colleges and universities, access will be allowed via one computer station per 10,000 students. (The settlement does not extend to for-profit colleges and universities.)

The Public Access Service does have certain limitations. Although patrons may print pages for a per sheet fee, they may not electronically copy or annotate books. Libraries and colleges may purchase an Institutional Subscription that removes some of the restrictions. At subscribing institutions, patrons may electronically annotate books, may print up to twenty pages of a book at a time, and may copy and paste up to four consecutive pages at a time. In addition, books in the Institutional Subscription Database may be made available via e-reserves or as part of course management systems, providing that the intended users would be authorized to use the Institutional Subscription itself.

The settlement as proposed does not specify a procedure for librarians and university officials to follow in order to request the free Public Access Service for their institutions. Nor does the language of the settlement require Google to notify colleges and libraries that they may be eligible for this service. If the settlement is approved with the provisions described above, presumably more information will be forthcoming, and the NCTE Intellectual Property Caucus and Intellectual Property Committee will share that information with you. A final hearing on the settlement has been scheduled for October 7, 2009, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, and a decision should be announced several months later.

For further information, please contact the author, Kim Gainer.

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