Google wants an act of Congress to fix orphan books mess

Google's says its exclusive rights to scan orphan books needs a new law to be fixed.

On Thursday, Dan Clancy, engineering director for Google Book Search, defended Google's book-search plans before attendees at an event at the Computer History Museum. Last year, Google settled a lawsuit filed by publishers. The settlement gives Google the right to scan so-called "orphan" books, those that are not yet in the public domain (meaning they have copyright protection) but are out of print with unknown authors.

As part of the settlement, copyright holders have until September to opt out. Google Books has been controversial since its inception and this settlement has increased the hoopla, with a host of groups voicing opposition ranging from librarians to privacy watchdogs. The Department of Justice and the EU's European Commission are both looking into the settlement before it will become final. A hearing is scheduled for October.

At issue is that the settlement gives Google exclusive rights to these orphaned books. Owners of copyrighted materials that are registered with Google's Book Registry can cut deals with other book digitizers, but no one can cut deals with other digitizers for the orphan books -- only Google can lay claim to them. Last night, Clancy suggested that what's needed to solve the problem is legislation by Congress that would dictate better rights for copyrighted, but abandoned, materials. This law would override Google's settlement deal.

Well, how about another solution? What if Google was not given rights to digitize orphaned books at all? Why not limit Google to "simply" digitize the millions of books with active copyright holders who can say yes to allowing this? Google would still be able to digitize public domain material (as can any other book reseller). Maybe those orphan books can be left to be cared for by not-for-profit organizations such as libraries and universities. When their copyrights expire, Google, and everyone else, can then have at 'em.

The thing is, it shouldn't have to take an act of Congress to change Google's tactics.

Also see:

Google takes aim at Amazon by giving away free eBook readers

Privacy group voices opposition to Google Books deal

EU to investigate Google Book deal

Despite DOJ scrutiny, Google adds new features to Google Books

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