Librarian Opposes Google's Library Fees

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Google wants to give you access to its huge database of scanned, out-of-print books, but the company is going to charge for it. Robert Darnton, head librarian at Harvard University, says the deal violates a basic American principle — that knowledge should be free and accessible to all.


Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Say you want to read a book published in the last few decades, but it's out of print. Google wants to give you access to the full text online through its massive Book Search Project.

Google started scanning books for this a few years ago, but some authors sued, accusing the company of copyright infringement. The suit was settled last fall, and under the agreement, users would pay to view copyrighted material.

Robert Darnton thinks that's a bad idea. He's the director of Harvard University Library, and he writes in the New York Review of Books that the deal violates a basic American principle: that knowledge should be free and accessible to all.

Mr. ROBERT DARNTON (Director, Harvard University Library): It would seem on the face of it that Google is a way to realize that dream of the founding fathers, and I think it could actually come true. The difficulty is Google's going to charge money for access to this.

So what we're talking about is the commercialization of the gigantic stock of books which libraries have been building up over the years. In the case of Harvard, where I'm responsible for the collections, we've had generations of people building up this great library, and it's something that I think should be used for the public good and not simply converted into, well, something marketable that will be sold.

LYDEN: In 2005, a group of authors and publishers brought a class-action suit against Google because of this project.

Mr. DARNTON: Naturally, the authors and the publishers were worried that by digitizing these books, Google could infringe copyright. So, they instituted a suit against Google. They then went through secret negotiations to try to find a settlement to the suit.

We know the terms of the settlement, and I think we should have a public debate because what is at stake is a public good, namely, access to literature and learning through the Internet.

LYDEN: What is it about the settlement that bothers you?

Mr. DARNTON: I think that the settlement raises the danger of a monopoly. It used to be, in the 19th century, that we had monopolies of steel, of railroads, that kind of thing, and now there's a danger of a monopoly of access to information. I don't think that anyone will be able to compete with Google.

LYDEN: In the days when Andrew Carnegie had a monopoly, he at least built libraries. We should point out that Google says it won't control the content, and that it'll give a computer terminal at each library free access to its content. So it does say that it will make some things free.

Mr. DARNTON: Yes. I think that's terrific. But, here, too, there's a downside because think of the huge libraries in large cities such as New York or Boston. They have hundreds of readers. These readers will be crawling over each other trying to get access to the terminal. So I think that a terminal in a huge library could cause more chaos than it would provide help.

LYDEN: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us, Robert Darnton.

Mr. DARNTON: Thank you for having me, Jacki.

LYDEN: Robert Darnton is the director of Harvard University Library. We also wanted to get Google's perspective, so we spoke to Daniel Clancy, the engineering director for the Book Search Project. He says Google isn't creating a monopoly, that Amazon and others are also scanning books.

Mr. DANIEL CLANCY (Engineering Director, Google Book Search Project): We don't think the way to solve this is for Google not to invest the money. We think the way to solve it is, we encourage other people to invest money in this, and so we are very supportive of other initiatives in this area.

LYDEN: And the cost to users? Clancy said that's controlled by a new group created in the settlement, the Book Rights Registry.

Mr. CLANCY: We believe it'll be priced such that every school in America can gain access to it. It's not so much that selling these old, out-of-print books is going to be this gold mine. They're out of print for a reason. It's because we feel we're going to enhance the overall user experience by making more content accessible and searchable and discoverable, and we felt like this agreement was a nice solution in that it helped provide access to that information while providing compensation for authors and publishers.

LYDEN: You can find a link to Robert Darnton's piece about Google. It's on our Web site,

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