by Jack Kessler, firstname.lastname@example.org
December 15, 2009 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on December 15, 2009.
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Robert Darnton has weighed in, once more, on the issues of digital libraries, and Google, and book digitization -- and on whether a sizeable portion of the world's intellectual property, and of its history, are being handed over now to a giant American corporation.
Here are a few excerpts from what he says: current issue, Dec 17, of the New York Review of Books -- la lutte continue, news from the front --
"Google and the New Digital Future"
By Robert Darnton
[First a remarkable foray into Deep Context: the sort of intellectual flight of fancy so dear to the French and to those who love them, yet too often incomprehensible to others -- still, well-met and read by anyone wishing to understand where all this GoogleBooks and digital library concern "really" fits -- from the silver pen of the author of The Great Cat Massacre --]
November 9 is one of those strange dates haunted by history. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, signaling the collapse of the Soviet empire. The Nazis organized Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938, beginning their all-out campaign against Jews. On November 9, 1923, Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch was crushed in Munich, and on November 9, 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and Germany was declared a republic.
The date especially hovers over the history of Germany, but it marks great events in other countries as well: the Meiji Restoration in Japan, November 9, 1867; Bonaparte's coup effectively ending the French Revolution, November 9, 1799; and the first sighting of land by the Pilgrims on the Mayflower, November 9, 1620.
On November 9, 2009, in the district court for the Southern District of New York, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers were scheduled to file a settlement to resolve their suit against Google for alleged breach of copyright in its program to digitize millions of books... Not comparable to the fall of the Berlin Wall, you might say. True, but...
-- it's all part of, Darnton contends --
Google's attempt to transform its digitizing of texts into the largest library and book-selling business the world has ever known.
-- after many months of discussion, and over 400 amicus briefs and memoranda, the pluses and minuses of the project now are apparent, Darnton says -- the plus-side --
On the positive side, Google will make it possible for consumers to purchase access to millions of copyrighted books currently in print, and to read them on hand-held devices or computer screens, with payment going to authors and publishers as well as Google. Many millions morebooks covered by copyright but out of print, at least seven million in all, including untold millions of "orphans" whose rightsholders have not been identifiedwill be available through subscriptions paid for by institutions such as universities. The database, along with books in the public domain that Google has already digitized, will constitute a gigantic digital library, and it will grow over time... By paying a moderate subscription fee, libraries, colleges, and educational institutions of all kinds could have instant access to a whole world of learning and literature.
-- and a few of the many minuses, now-emerging from the many debates --
But will the price be moderate? The negative arguments stress the danger that monopolies tend to charge monopoly prices. Equally important, they warn that Google's dominance of access to books will reinforce its power over access to other kinds of information, raising concerns about privacy... The same dominance also raises questions about both competition... and commitment to the public good. As a commercial enterprise, Google's first duty is to provide a profit for its shareholders, and the settlement leaves no room for representation of libraries, readers, or the public in general...
-- yet it seems that, so far at least, the US courts still are just "muddling through" --
No courtroom drama took place on November [9 or] 13, because nothing happened other than the filing of the revised settlement -- call it GBS [Google Book Search] 2.0 to distinguish it from the original version of the settlement, GBS 1.0... GBS 2.0 will certainly be challenged by groups and individuals who claim they were not fairly represented in the classes of authors and publishers. The case may take years to work its way through the courts. Meanwhile, Google will go on digitizing; and as the legal situation evolves, it may devise further revisions of the settlement -- GBS 3.0, GBS 4.0, etc.
-- Darnton is greatly interested, as are most of us here, in the international aspects of this local US legal squabble --
The protests that came from Europe are the most revealing. Although they concentrate on issues of special importance to foreignersabove all, the incompatibility of American class-action suits with protection for copyright holders who are not Americansthey show how the settlement was seen from a distant perspective.
-- as some Europeans may not be aware, their own national governments have become officially involved --
The governments of France and Germany sent memorandums urging the court to reject the settlement "in its entirety" or at least insofar as it applied to their own citizens. Far from seeing any potential public good in it, they condemned it for creating an "unchecked, concentrated power" over the digitization of a vast amount of literature (this according to the French memorandum) and for doing so (according to the Germans) by a "commercially driven" agreement negotiated "in secrecy... behind closed doors by three interested parties, the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and Google, Inc."
In contrast to the commercial character of Google's enterprise, both governments stressed the higher values represented by their national literatures. The French began their memorandum by invoking Pascal, Descartes, Molière, Racine, and other writers through Camus and Sartre, while the Germans summoned up the line that led from Goethe and Schiller to Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass.
-- I find myself reaching to find the relevance of such cultural chest-beating, nationalistic no less, to the Google undertaking, extraordinary and far-reaching as the latter may be -- things turn hysterical, perhaps -- it appears that to Darnton it seems a stretch as well --
Each country cited the number of its Nobel Prize winners in literature (France sixteen, Germany twelve), and each buttressed its case by other evidence of high-mindedness. The Germans insisted on Gutenberg and his contribution to "the spread of science and culture." The French cited the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen from 1789 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 in order to uphold the principle of "free access to information" threatened by Google's "de facto monopoly."
It is an odd spectacle: foreign governments defending a European notion of culture against the capitalistic inroads of an American company, and submitting their case to Judge Denny Chin of the Southern District Court of New York. What Judge Chin, who grew up in Hell's Kitchen in a family of poor Chinese immigrants (and won a scholarship to Princeton University) made of it all is difficult to say. He did not tip his hand on November 13, nor did he say when a hearing would take place.
-- and Darnton, forever the raconteur, gets in some entertaining digs --
In playing the cultural card, the French emphasized the unique character of the book, "a product unlike other products"its power to capture creativity, to enrich civilization, and to promote diversity, which, they claimed, would be compromised by Google's commitment to commercialization. The Germans spoke in the name of "the land of poets and thinkers,"
but they laid most stress on the right of privacy, which, they argued, Google could threaten by keeping data on who reads what.
The national governments have some ideas, about how Google's book digitization project ought to turn out -- them plus a September 7 EC hearing attended by inter alia the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), the European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Associates (EBLIDA), and the Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche (LIBER) -- and the US government, too, is concerned about antitrust -- Darnton provides succinct summmaries.
-- and Darnton has given the matter much thought himself --
The most ambitious solution would transform Google's digital database into a truly public library... a national digital library equal to the needs of the twenty-first century. But it is not clear how Google would react to such a buyout...
-- or --
a minimal solution could be devised for the private sector... the database would include only books in the public domain and orphan works... The work need not be done in haste. At the rate of a million books a year, we would have a great library, free and accessible to everyone, within a decade.
-- and then Darnton gets really idealistic --
And the job would be done right, with none of the missing pages, botched images, faulty editions, omitted artwork, censoring, and misconceived cataloging that mar Google's enterprise.
-- and he even sees a role for, *gasp*, librarians! --
Bibliographers, who appear to play little or no part in Google's enterprise, would direct operations along with computer engineers. Librarians would cooperate with both in order to assure the preservation of the books, another weak point in GBS, because Google is not committed to maintaining its corpus, and digitized texts easily degrade or become inaccessible.
-- in sum, according to Darnton --
We are agreed that something must be done to improve the nation's health. Why not do something to enrich its culture?
November 18, 2009 -- Darnton's Note:
[*]The texts of the documents can be consulted at http://dockets.justia.com/docket/court-nysdce/case_no-1:2005cv08136/case_id-273913*
New York Review of Books, Volume 56, Number 20 (December 17, 2009)
Robert Darnton is a thinker and writer well worth following, on all the above points:
Well worth reading, then: Darnton provides intelligent and well-informed syntheses of the mountain of legalistic gobbledygook thus far assembled in the GoogleBooks skirmishes of the digital library wars -- an author who knows the issues well, particularly their increasingly multi-cultural and trans-national dimensions, and who really can write --
Some previous sources -- Darnton on GoogleBooks
So I expect this latest New York Review of Books / NYRB article, described initially here, will not be Darnton's last usefully-demystifying pronouncement, on GoogleBooks. And, for comparison and even some contrast, the somewhat more sanguine views of this same author several years ago may be of interest, too --
-- that was back when Google and the rest of us all were new at this -- digital libraries, and digital information generally, being nothing if not a "moving target", for all of us.
Jack Kessler, email@example.com
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