The debate over Google Books has spilled overseas. The search behemoth's plan to digitize the world's books--aided by a complex arrangement with the Authors Guild in America--has European publishers up in arms. In case you're unfamiliar with the details (which Ryan Singel expertly outlined in Wired), the basic arrangement entails:

  • Google digitizes millions of books, effectively taking over the digital copyright of 50-70% of books published after 1923
  • Every library gets one free subscription, and will have to pay for any additional subscriptions
  • Publishers help set the prices and receive a portion of revenue
The debate has been raging for months in America, with scholars, publishers, and academics weighing the enormous research benefits against what could eventually amount to a literary monopoly. A prominent early supporter, Harvard professor Robert Darnton, prominently turned his back on the plan when doubts about its benevolent mission grew:
The settlement creates a fundamental change in the digital world by consolidating power in the hands of one company. Apart from Wikipedia, Google already controls the means of access to information online for most Americans, whether they want to find out about people, goods, places, or almost anything.
What has changed in the latest iteration of debate? The pendulum is definitely swinging against the Mountain View juggernaut. Here are the latest reasons for and against the settlement:
  • Overrides European Copyrights says Richard Waters in the Financial Times. "The benefits from the settlement will accrue only to people in the US."
  • But Liberates Old Works from Obsolescence says David Weir at BNet. "All I know, as a writer, is any revenue this project sends my way will be the first I've seen from my out-of-print books in decades...What sounds best of all is the idea that the work I and my coauthors did years ago, which has long been locked away and out of view, may finally get to join the 21st Century."
  • Raises Unprecedented Legal Challenges says at Frank Pasquale at Balkinization. "The key problems law can address are:
    a) extraordinary pricing power by Google/Registry alliance,
    b) lack of transparency about how terms will be set,
    c) lack of a public alternative to serve the people that Google fails to serve, and
    d) threats to privacy"
  • But Is Beset by Misconceptions says the Authors Guild that initially signed the settlement. "Unless you want to sue Google, there's no good reason to opt out of the settlement."
  • Both a Boon and a Threat to Readers says the ACLU. "Without a strong privacy policy that protects reader privacy, Google Books could become a one-stop shop for government and third party fishing expeditions into the personal details of your life."
Who is standing up in defense of Google's current arrangement? The most recent strong case came out in the Wall Street Journal in July. The author argued that instead of opposing the plan, European publishers should negotiate their own settlement.
This would ultimately benefit European authors and publishers, as well as giving Europeans much greater access to the world's books.
The author was William Echikson, Google's senior manager of communications in Belgium.