University Publishers Question Google Print Library Project

May 27, 2005

The Association of American University Presses is questioning the legality of Google’s plan, announced in December 2004, to digitize books from the collections of several major research libraries—including Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Michigan—and make them searchable online. In a May 20 letter to the search-engine company, AAUP Executive Director Peter Givler asked for 16 points of clarification about the Google Print for Libraries project, indicating that it “appears to involve systematic infringement of copyright on a massive scale.”

The AAUP disputes that Google has the right, under the fair-use provision of Section 107 of the Copyright Act, to make single copies of books still protected by copyright, even though the company may only offer “snippets” of text in its search results. “They may all be nice guys and have wonderful plans,” Givler said in the May 25 New York Times, “but there’s something here we have to have a serious conversation about.”

Google representative Eileen Rodriguez responded by saying the company respects the rights of copyright holders, and that publishers may opt out of having their products turn up in search results. Tom Turvey, Google strategic partner development manager, said in the May 24 industry e-mail newsletter Publishers Lunch that the company asserts no “tacit copyright ownership of books scanned at libraries or the files from those books.”

Business Week reported May 23 that in recent months publishers John Wiley and Sons and Random House have also sent letters to Google voicing a similar concern. Wiley released a statement that it is “exploring issues and opportunities with Google, including the potential impact of this program on our authors, our customers, and our business.”

Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain told Business Week that the problem lay in the ambiguity of the fair-use provision, but “Google’s plan doesn’t disrupt the market for purchasing the book, and in that sense it should heavily favor them.”

The Google Print for Libraries plan has also generated concern in Europe, where national leaders and publishers have called for a European Digital Library to offset a perceived American imbalance. The German book-publishing trade association, Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, announced May 26 that it plans to develop its own search engine, called Volltextsuche online, which will offer access to the full text of German-language books.