Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2009 Issue

Rivals, Others Seek to Derail Google/Publishers Alliance

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The Open Book Alliance has raised vociferous objections to the proposed Google/Publishers settlement.


By Michael Stillman

With time running out to file legal objections to the agreement between Google and publishers for the former to sell digitized copies of in-copyright books, the opposition has grouped to make a final stand. The "Open Book Alliance" is playing the role of General Custer in this last stand, though naturally they hope for a better outcome. The Alliance includes a variety of groups, some commercial, some not, some perhaps spurred by altruistic motives, others with obvious competitive commercial interests at stake. The final hearing in court is scheduled for September 4, with a decision by October 7.

A few years ago, Google reached an agreement with several important libraries, such as Oxford, Harvard, New York Public, later expanded to many more, to scan and digitize old books in their collections. The project (Google Book Search) promised to make vast amounts of hard if not virtually impossible to find information available to researchers and the curious all over the world from the convenience of their personal computers. There has never been anything close to this project in terms of making the knowledge of previous generations available to people of today. While Google does not release figures, we estimate that they probably have scanned around 10 million books by now.

Of course, a project of this magnitude is bound to run into conflict with the private interests of someone. In this case, it was the publishers and writers who saw the fruits of their labor/investments about to be converted to private use without their receiving compensation. For books published before 1923, there was no issue, as these copyrights had long ago expired. However, books published after 1922 could still be under copyright, but Google was scanning and making these books available to the public with no payment to the copyright holders.

Despite the fact that many of the post-1922 books might still be under copyright, Google plowed ahead with their project, including the digitization of many of these books. The first to object were the Authors' Guild and Association of American Publishers, representing the two groups with a financial interest in copyrighted books. They demanded Google cease. Google refused. It might sound logical that Google first seek permission to digitize copyrighted books, but this is not as easy as it sounds. Much research is required to determine which books are still under copyright, and it is even harder to locate the copyright holders if they are. Who do you seek permission from or pay for a 1925 book whose author died in 1930 and whose publisher went out of business in 1935? Seeking permission in advance was essentially the same as saying these books could not be made available digitally to the public. They were doomed to be left to die on a handful of scattered library shelves, never seen, and eventually de-accessioned into oblivion. Google stood between them and this fate.

After some contentious public debate, Google reached a settlement with the authors' and publishers' organizations. Essentially, it provided for the copyright holders to receive 63% and Google 37% of revenues gained from selling access to these digitized books. Writers and publishers gained an opportunity to once again make money from out-of-print books that no longer provided any income at all, the public gained access to these "lost" texts, and Google had an opportunity to make some money in return for making all of this information available to the public. Copyright holders who did not like this settlement were free to opt out and keep their books out of Google's book search. It was a win-win-win proposition. Not so fast.

The Open Book Alliance, which is making the most vocal objections to this arrangement, is a consortium of private interests and public-spirited groups. It includes both of Google's major search rivals, Microsoft and Yahoo, and book (including e-book) competitor Amazon. It also includes several library and printing organizations which may or may not have conflicting private interests, and the Internet Archive, a wonderful, public-minded organization that has been scanning old books longer than Google and provides that outstanding database of websites as they appeared in the past, the Wayback Machine. The Internet Archive digitizes, for free public access, out of copyright and in-copyright books, but seeks copyright holder permission first before scanning books that are still under copyright protection (however, we might note, they do not seek permission to make available the older and deleted versions of copyrighted websites found in the Wayback Machine, even though the owners might wish those earlier iterations would disappear). Not surprisingly, the Internet Archive collection of digitized books is tiny in comparison to Google's.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750

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