Google Welfare State: Analyzing the Google Books Settlement

4. Libraries and bookstores will be the same thing.Ultimately what Google has done is transform libraries into bookstores. They’ve done this quite literally, by digitizing the contents of several libraries and turning them into revenue-generators. They want to sell these books; and failing that, to sell ads against them. At the same time, they are already in the process of building a massive, free archive of rare and public domain books. And they’re making them available to anyone with an internet connection.That’s why the GBS has to be evaluated as a document that regulates libraries as well as a digital bookstore. A library is, after all, a vast repository of research texts that tell us the hopefully balanced history of our culture. There are things we demand of libraries that we don’t demand of bookstores. We want libraries to be as complete as possible; we want them maintained as a public good; and perhaps most importantly we want them preserved as long as possible through changes in political regimes and fashions.If you look at Google Books from that perspective, two basic issues emerge from the Settlement: privacy for readers, and protection against censorship i.e., making politically unpopular books “disappear”.Currently, the government mandates that libraries protect patron records from casual searches by law enforcement. But the GBS does not require warrants for government agents to request records about who has been reading what, and when. In fact, Google will keep far more detailed records about reader habits than a librarian ever could – right down to which sections of a book you read.And there are other disturbing elements of the GBS, too. It allows for censorship and alteration of books stored in the Google library.

Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Fred Von Lohmann writes:

“Even more troubling is the possibility of selective alterations of the texts of the books themselves. In Section 3.10ci, the settlement forbids Google “except as expressly authorized by the Registered Rightsholder” from altering the text of scanned books when displayed to users. That’s certainly a good thing, as far as it goes-we shouldn’t want Google to be able to go in and selectively edit books. But Google is allowed to selectively edit if “authorized” by the copyright owner. Why is this permitted? And if the rightsholder “authorizes” Google to make changes, can Google refuse to do so? Will the fact of alteration be publicly visible to the reader? The answer is not clear. But clearly the better rule is a prohibition on anyone making editorial alterations in the text of scanned books again, no library would allow a copyright owner to selectively blackline books in the stacks. Any other option creates the chilling prospect of “revising history” as imagined in Orwell’s 1984. The proposed settlement also gives Google a troubling degree of discretion when it comes to choosing which books will be publicly accessible. For example, Section 3.7e makes it clear that Google can exclude any scanned book it likes from public access “for editorial or non-editorial reasons.” . . . It’s worth noting that governments will doubtless exploit the leeway that the settlement gives to both rightsholders and Google to pull books off the digital shelves of Google Books. It’s all too easy to imagine foreign governments pressuring their citizens to “remove” books from public access on Google. It’s also likely that foreign governments will pressure Google to omit books from Google Books. If that comes to pass, neither Google nor the rightsholders will be able to say that they are legally constrained by the settlement from complying.”

If we think of Google Books as a bookstore, the idea that people can withdraw or alter their books isn’t particularly troubling. But when you consider that millions of books will be in the library, many by authors who are dead or cannot be found, these clauses become censorship invitations. They could be the legal loopholes that make it easy for governments to revise history.One possible way to fix this problem would be to designate two Google Books collections, regulated differently: The Library public domain and unclaimed works, and the Store any book that has been claimed by a copyright owner who wants to sell it through Google.

via 5 Ways The Google Book Settlement Will Change The Future of Reading – io9

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