November 26, 2007, 10:18 AM ET
U. of Michigan Librarian's New Blog Defends Institution's Deal With Google
Paul Courant, who recently took the helm at the University of Michigan’s libraries, has started a blog to defend the university’s controversial book-scanning deal with Google, in which the search giant is digitizing and adding to its index millions of books from Michigan and a group of other major libraries.
“I believe that the University of Michigan (and the other partner libraries) and Google are changing the world for the better,” he wrote earlier this month in one of his first posts. “Google is on pace to scan over 7 million volumes from U-M libraries in six years at no cost to the University. As part of our arrangement with Google, they give us copies of all the digital files, and we can keep them forever.”
The blog drew a quick response from Siva Vaidhyanathan, an associate professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, on the blog for his book-in-progress, “The Googlization of Everything: How One Company is Disrupting Culture, Commerce, and Community — and Why We Should Worry.”
“How is the ‘library copy,’ that electronic file that Michigan and others receive as payment for allowing Google to exploit their treasures, NOT an audacious infringement of copyright?” he wrote. “It violates both the copyright holder’s right to copy and right to distribute. Doesn’t a university library have an obligation to explain this?”
Soon after, Mr. Courant dashed off a reply. “I must say that I am troubled that the author of a very sensible book about copyright is so enthusiastic about trashing Google that he is willing to give up on the uses, notably scholarly uses, that are permitted in the higher-numbered sections of the Copyright Act,” he wrote. “As my institution’s copyright lawyer says: ‘FAIR USE, it’s the law.’ And my institution believes that when we have Google digitize our holdings we do so under the law and in order to make uses that are not only lawful, but that are completely consistent with the undergirding purpose of copyright law.”
There’s plenty more back-and-forth worth checking out for anyone watching the move toward mass digitization of book collections, which continues to spark the imagination of the public as well, as evidenced by last week’s cover story in Newsweek, which is about e-book machines and the future of digital collections. There’s more background in The Chronicle’s archives as well.—Jeffrey R. Young