In Auckland on June 24-25, publishers and other interested parties attended a conference called “The Future of the Book.” It was run by the Digital Publishing Forum. The agenda featured keynotes from application developers, academics and e-book publishers. John Garraway represented the National Digital Forum on a panel discussion.
I didn’t attend the conference although I wish I had. From what I’ve (briefly) heard the conference was an exciting exploration of the following:
- devices- availability in New Zealand, multiplicity of
- technologies – languages, protocol, format
- the experience of ‘the book’ – buying, reading, using, portability
- opportunities – for publishers, libraries, authors, teachers, students
The colleague who went from my place of work came back fizzing with information and ideas to think over. (She also told a heartwarming story about a suggestion that libraries charge for ebooks. Very few of the people in the room put their hands up in agreement. e-books then are just another format.)
I admit that I had completely missed that there was nothing on the agenda about Google Books until someone pointed it out to me. I can only assume that was because Google Books is seen as something quite separate to publishers concerns about the publication of future works and/or the potential in moving from print based to digital based presentation. I’m not sure that a conference run by a group with the aim “to accelerate the development of a digital publishing industry in New Zealand” should be expected to address copyright and privacy issues at the same time.
What’s it about then? Well, it’s complicated.
The goal of the Google Books Library Project is to “make it easier for people to find relevant books – specifically, books they wouldn’t find any other way such as those that are out of print – while carefully respecting authors’ and publishers’ copyrights. ” An arrangement between library partners and Google saw mass scanning of certain library collections. This included items that were in copyright and items that were in the public domain (or out of copyright). In 2005 two lawsuits were bought against Google contending that authors and publishers rights weren’t being respected and that authors and publishers weren’t being properly compensated. The situation was partially resolved late last year when a settlement was reached between all parties. This involved compensation for publishers and authors in exchange for Google to have the right to “make many of these out-of-print books available for preview, reading and purchase in the U.S.” ( Internationally, searching won’t change because the “agreement resolves a United States lawsuit, it directly affects only those users who access Book Search in the U.S.” The agreement however does cover works by international authors that have been released in the US.) Authors can opt out of the settlement via the Google Book Settlement administration website. The settlement will also allow Google to display and/or sell orphan works. These are works that are out-of-print, still in copyright but unclaimed by a copyright holder. The U.S. Justice Department is making some inquiries into whether this gives them an unfair advantage although at this stage it hasn’t been announced as a formal investigation. The US Authors Guild President thinks this is nothing to worry about. He’s convinced that the Books Rights Registry will actually help to unearth copyright holders as Google starts paying out. Some organisations are also concerned about privacy issues. The Auckland Libraries blogger Scooper has written about this under Google Books opposition increasing. There seem to be two main concerns. One is the ability of technology to track where you’ve been and how long you’ve been there. The other is about the privatisation of information.
Where does that leave us? To be honest I’m not entirely sure. I’m all in favour of being able to access the full text of books online. I’m happy to pay for that privilege. I hope that New Zealand publishers and authors are looking carefully at the agreement and considering their options, both with regards to Google Books and any future digital publication. I think that one thing is for certain – the future of the book is assured (even if we’re not quite sure what format it will be in.)