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October 9, 2009

Sergey Brin on Google Books Settlement

There's been a lot of talk about the Google Books settlement that would allow Google to provide access to out-of-print books in the US. This would unlock a lot of valuable information and would make it available in the Google Books interface.

New York Times published a thoughtful op-ed piece by Sergey Brin called "A Library to Last Forever", which tries to explain why the settlement is beneficial to everyone.
The vast majority of books ever written are not accessible to anyone except the most tenacious researchers at premier academic libraries. Books written after 1923 quickly disappear into a literary black hole. With rare exceptions, one can buy them only for the small number of years they are in print. After that, they are found only in a vanishing number of libraries and used book stores. (...)

[Some] have questioned the impact of the agreement on competition, or asserted that it would limit consumer choice with respect to out-of-print books. In reality, nothing in this agreement precludes any other company or organization from pursuing their own similar effort. The agreement limits consumer choice in out-of-print books about as much as it limits consumer choice in unicorns. Today, if you want to access a typical out-of-print book, you have only one choice — fly to one of a handful of leading libraries in the country and hope to find it in the stacks.

I wish there were a hundred services with which I could easily look at such a book; it would have saved me a lot of time, and it would have spared Google a tremendous amount of effort. But despite a number of important digitization efforts to date (Google has even helped fund others, including some by the Library of Congress), none have been at a comparable scale, simply because no one else has chosen to invest the requisite resources.

{ via Tom Stocky }

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