Page last updated at 10:25 GMT, Friday, 9 October 2009 11:25 UK

Google hits back at book critics

Computer screen in the New York Library
Google's digital library plans have met with strong opposition.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin has hit out at critics of the company's plans to create what could be the world's largest virtual library.

Writing in the New York Times, Mr Brin said he wanted to "dispel some myths" surrounding the project.

He said the plan would make millions of "out-of-print" books available to the public online.

Those against the idea fear it would give Google a monopoly over access to the world's information.

"In reality, nothing in this agreement precludes any other company or organisation from pursuing their own similar effort," he wrote.

"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."

'No deal'

Google Books - formerly known as Google print - was first launched in 2004.

It aims to scan millions of the world's books and make them available - and searchable - online.

However, in 2005 the Authors Guild of America and Association of American Publishers sued Google over "massive copyright infringement".

Google countered that its project represented "fair use".

Many of us are objecting because we have been working together for years on the mass scanning of out-of-print books... and Google's 'settlement' could hurt our efforts
Brewster Khale, Internet Archive

The search giant settled the lawsuit in 2008. In that deal, Google agreed to pay $125m (£76m) to create a Book Rights Registry, where authors and publishers could register works and receive compensation.

Authors and publishers would get 70% from the sale of these books with Google keeping the remaining 30%.

Google would also be given the right to digitise orphan works, titles where the authors cannot be found. There are thought to be around five million of these works.

A decision on whether the deal could go through was originally scheduled for early October.

But, after an outpouring of criticism - from governments, technology companies, privacy advocates and consumer watchdogs - as well as formal objections from the US Department of Justice, the presiding Judge sent the deal back to the drawing board.

"Many of us are objecting because we have been working together for years on the mass scanning of out-of-print books - and have worked to get books online for far longer than Google - and Google's 'settlement' could hurt our efforts," wrote Brewster Khale of the Internet Archive in a blog post earlier this week.

The Internet Archive has a competing project, which aims to offer a free digital library. It scans around 1000 books a day.

"A major part of our efforts have concentrated on changing the law so everyone would benefit."

On Wednesday, the judge said the hearing on the reworked settlement would begin on 9 November.

'History lesson'

Google sign
Is Google safeguarding our cultural heritage?

Mr Brin addressed three major criticisms in his column in the New York Times about the terms of the Book Rights Registry, the quality of the scans Google would offer and concerns about competition.

Whilst he admitted in the short term Google would effectively dominate the market, he said ultimately other projects would benefit from the firm's work.

"If Google Books is successful, others will follow," he wrote.

"They will have an easier path: this agreement creates a books rights registry that will encourage rights holders to come forward and will provide a convenient way for other projects to obtain permissions.

"While new projects will not immediately have the same rights to orphan works, the agreement will be a beacon of compromise in case of a similar lawsuit."

He also argued that the firm was safeguarding the world's cultural heritage.

"The famous library at Alexandria burned three times, in 48 BC, AD 273 and AD 640, as did the Library of Congress, where a fire in 1851 destroyed two-thirds of the collection," he wrote.

"I hope such destruction never happens again, but history would suggest otherwise."

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