Google Settlement Draws Criticism and Praise

Summer 2009

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At a recent conference hosted by Columbia Law School's Kernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts, more than 300 people gathered to hear experts discuss the settlement Google drafted with The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers in October. From creators to publishers to librarians, all came to hear how Google’s latest pursuit could affect their operations.

The 200-page settlement was the end result of a legal battle that began when Google decided to scan more than 7 million books and create a publicly searchable electronic database. Authors and publishers sued to retain control of their intellectual property, and the parties involved eventually came to an agreement. “Our goal in organizing the conference was to provide a forum for thoughtful comment and evaluation of the settlement,” said June M. Besek, executive director of the Kernochan Center. “And thanks to our excellent speakers, and to probing questions posed by moderators and audience members, I think we were very successful.”

Besek moderated the day’s first panel, which focused on the future of books. Later in the day, Jane C. Ginsburg, the Morton L. Janklow Professor of Literary and Artistic Property Law and the director of the Kernochan Center, led a group of experts in assessing the Google settlement’s impact on authors. Jan Constantine, general counsel for The Authors Guild, declared the agreement “an absolutely wonderful deal for authors,” before detailing the myriad benefits for writers of both in-print and out-of-print books. “Selling books and providing monetization for books that haven’t been in the marketplace has got to be a good thing,” she said.

The conference’s final panel centered on the settlement’s impact on the public. Harvard University Library Director Robert Darnton said he appreciates that Google is poised to create “the greatest digital library ever,” but he is concerned that the internet giant could impose exorbitant pricing that would cripple libraries’ access to the online collection. Google Associate General Counsel Alexander Macgillivray attempted to ease such concerns, explaining that the settlement also keeps Google’s pricing power in check.

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