What do Google and Dickens have in common?
They’re both poised to make a fortune off of orphans.
Google has spent the last few years scanning the pages of millions of orphan books. Out-of-print, unclaimed by copyright holders — orphan books drift into obscurity with no one to claim ownership. (Often, the copyright holders died or went out of business.)
Google took more than 7 million of these unwanted urchins and compiled them in an enormous digital library.
Of course, Google didn’t just do this out of sense of altruism or posterity. They plan to charge for access to these orphans.
As often happens in this country (but apparently not in Sweden), somebody sued. The Author’s Guild and The Association of American Publishers filed a class-action lawsuit in 2005. Google settled to the tune of $45 million.
The settlement is pretty complex, but what bothers most of its critics is it essentially gives Google lone access to these orphan books. So if you want to hunt down an obscure piece of literature or scholarship, you’ll have to pay Google.
Consequently, the Justice Department announced earlier this month that it would be investigating the Google Book Search settlement to see if it violates antitrust law. Feds will formally present their findings on September 9, and a federal judge is scheduled to hear the case October 7.
On one hand, it would be wonderful if millions of difficult-to-find books were available on Google. On the other, theoretically nothing could stop Google from jacking up the prices for availability.
The Google Book Search plan definitely has merit, but it’s hard to view their control over orphan books as anything besides a monopoly.
-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com